Question planners are not necessarily ‘obsessed’ with social order
Securing social order has long been a utilisation of planning. In this case-study, evidence exists, both supporting and refuting the contention that planners are ‘obsessed’ with securing social order.
The strongest evidence implying an obsession with social order, is the decision regarding the “erection of steel gates” (Officers-Report, 2009:p1) around the site, making it “gated and surrounded” (Ibid, p8), indicating a desire to segregate the site from its local area within a literal, gated community. Such an approach, it could be argued, secures spatial social order via ensuring this proposal does not impact surrounding light industry, as spatial segregation ensures existing HGV movements are unimpeded by the family’s presence. This segregation also limits the family’s integration to local communities, perhaps out of desire to segregate the gypsy family, who may be perceived as deviant and dangerous, from the safe, ordered purified local community (Sennett, 2008). This mirrors a wider perceived initiative to produce segregated gypsy-only areas under circular 30/2007 (Officers-Report, 2009), to produce social order.
Furthermore, the proposals conditions are strict and regimental, enforcing social order. Spatially the site’s layout is strictly defined, with set numbers of caravans and vehicles only allowed within designated areas (PINS, 2009). Likewise socially, only limited numbers of named residents may inhabit the site, whilst behaviour is governed by reasonable conduct policies (Officers-Report, 2009). Such regulations, arguably, have been implemented to ensure the ‘unorderly’ gypsy community cannot “dominate the nearest settled community” (Officers-Report, 2009:p5), resultantly limiting social problems, ensuring social order continues within the area. Further conditions have also acted to ensure social order remains secure, including safeguarding access to the public highway, via ensuring site gates open inwards, and including the site on local waste collection routes, even if inconvenient for these services, to limit potential impacts of the proposal upon social order.
However, contrasting evidence suggesting planners are not necessarily ‘obsessed’ with social order is also present. Arguably planners here are acting in the interests of an alternative lifestyle group that does not abide by the norm, “the projection of the model of order upon human conduct” (Bauman, 2005:p106). Doing so requires planners to make decisions conflicting ‘social norms’, resultantly creating potential social disorder or conflict like the objections and concerns raised by neighbours, including waste dumping and increased crime (Officers-Report, 2009). The proposal Is also “highly vulnerable” (Officers-Report, 2009:p5) to flooding, and its approval highlights a clear contradiction of the land use zoning implemented to produce social order within planning.
In conclusion, evidence both supporting and refuting an obsession with securing social order exists. ‘The planner’ in this case-study has facilitated an alternative lifestyle despite its negative impacts, however they have done so in a manner securing the lowest possible impact to social order via their conditions, which have moderated the proposal and shaped its form. It is therefore unfair to suggest planners are ‘obsessed’ with social order, and more apt to suggest they strongly advocate and desire social order, but will compromise to some extent to facilitate alternative lifestyles.
Word Count: 500
The term ‘public interest’ and its use within planning has come to employ numerous operational definitions, relating to providing positive outcomes to particular interests, for particular groups representing the public (Meyerson and Banfield, 1955). However, from a utilitarian perspective of public interest, which states interests are subjective and perceives the public as the sum of its individuals (Campbell and Marshall, 2002), this case-study overtly represents how planning does not always act towards the public interest.
This is illustrated by the repeated use of terminology, citing how such a proposal is only allowed due to the “exceptional circumstances of the applicant and his immediate family” (Officers-Report, 2009:p9), stating if planning permission were refused the family would “become homeless” (ibid: p7). The decision to locate the family in this area has also been taken out of the desire to facilitate that “younger children…attend…the same school as elder ones” (Design Access Statement, 2009:p5), that family members can continue with their jobs, and children are potentially granted permanent nursery placements. Whilst these are legitimate points, they are not related to the wider public interest. This proposals decision has therefore acted in the interests of this small group of individuals, at the expense of many other individuals within the wider public who are negatively impacted by this proposal. This clearly acts against the utilitarian public interest, which views the public as the sum of its individuals, as decisions are not made to benefit the greatest number of individuals possible.
Such negative impacts of this proposal are outlined in seven letters from various neighbours. Concerns include “additional waste being dumped”, the sites isolated nature, “curtailment of the activities of established businesses”, and the “unfair burden placed upon nearby premises…to secure…their sites” (Officers-Report, 2009:p2). These represent potential hazards to the production of social order, both spatial and social, representing concerns of the ‘wider public’, which have been ignored due to “the urgent accommodation need and lack of alternative sites outweighing these concerns” (Officers-Report, 2009:p7). This clearly illustrates how the exceptional needs of a family, no matter the impacts upon wider subjective public interests, are this proposals primary concern, superseding their ‘requirement’ to act in the subjective public interest, as they appear to disregard potential impacts upon businesses and individuals outside of the family, which have clearly been expressed.
Local government and consulted external bodies involved in the planning process to ensure public interest remains at the heart of decisions, also raised notable objections but were ignored in favour of providing in the interest of only the family involved. Both councillors Trigg and Critchley have outlined concerns, regarding the potential negative impacts upon the wider public if more families move onto the site, and possible “detrimental impact upon the surrounding businesses” (Officers-Report, 2009:p2). Despite these concerns, the planning inspectorate has approved the site prioritising the needs of the family, which negate any consideration of the potential negative effects upon the subjective public interests outlined by the councillors. This is mirrored through the planners’ handling of concerns from consulted bodies, including the environment agency. In accordance with TAN 15, policy put in place to secure public interests within planning and ensure no development is vulnerable to particularly high levels of flood risk, this proposal is not acceptable, “development…would not be permitted” (Officers-Report, 2009:p6). Nevertheless, the interests of only the family have again been seen to supersede these requirements, specifically designed to ensure protection of public interests, as the decision is seen to produce a “betterment…of their current situation” (ibid: p6). This again indicates the public interest, viewed from a utilitarian (individualistic) perspective, was not the primary consideration for this decision. If it were, planners would have acted to create the greatest amount of benefit, to the subjective interests of the greatest number of individuals possible within the public. Their failure to do so, and resulting negative impacts upon the public interest is testament to this decisions disregard of the public interest.
In conclusion, the utilitarian (individual) public interest is not the primary concern of the planning system relating to this proposal. Despite numerous concerns raised regarding potential impacts upon the wider subjective public interest, which are well founded, permission with conditions has been granted due to the exceptional circumstances of the Hendry family, superseding the wider subjective public interest of the predominant number of individuals forming ‘the public’ in this case. This proposals desire to act in the interest of the minority, negatively impacting the majority, clearly highlights how this decision was not in the public interest.
Word count: 750
There are various interpretations of the public interest. Their utilisation within planning depends upon the way in which interests are viewed, subjectively or objectively, and ones’ categorisation of the affected public (Campbell and Marshall, 2002). In this case-study however, it is evident that when viewed from a unitary (communal) perspective, public interest was the key consideration influencing the planning decision. A unitary perspective of public interest places emphasis upon the collective nature of the public (Campbell and Marshall, 2002), with interests being objective. This perspective is tied to both the capabilities approach (Nussbaum, 2007); that members of the collective share certain requirements, a place to live in this case-study, and the “trans-subjective” perspective (Flatham, 1966); which states public interest requires, in some instances, members of the collective to obey laws and decisions, even when against their private subjective interests, out of a moral obligation. To this end, there is evidence to strongly argue that public interest was the key factor motivating this planning decision.
One illustration of the public interest (viewed from a unitary perspective) being this proposal’s key consideration, is through its ability to produce wider objective benefits for the collective, resultantly making the decision in the collectives’ interest. The families’ relocation to this site facilitates restoration work upon the grade-1 listed transporter bridge, the cultural and historical value of which is important to the collective of residents living within Newport for tourism and heritage purposes. Furthermore, relocation of the family will re-instate an area of currently unusable highway (Officers-Report, 2009), providing greater unimpeded mobility for the collective, resultantly benefitting them and providing evidence of the planning body acting within the objective public interest. Mobility of the collective will also be furthered by renovations to the transporter bridge, facilitated by this decision, illustrating how it has been based predominantly upon objective public interest.
The proposal also serves those interests superseding and transcending individual interests within the collective, again suggesting public interest was the core consideration for this planning decision. All members of the collective, even those of differing sub-groups, share certain interests. One such interest according to Nussbaum (2007) is the desire for shelter and accommodation. By allowing the family to reside in this area, it prevents them from becoming homeless, facilitating the objective requirement to provide shelter for individuals which transcends personal interests within the collective, and thus the decision is within the collectives shared public interest. Furthermore, according to a unitary trans-subjective perspective (Flatham, 1966), the public interest is a moral concept. As such the planning body is acting to make a moral decision, allowing the family to reside in this area, preventing homelessness, whilst limiting objective impacts upon other collective members who will need to put aside their potential concerns regarding impacts to subjective personal interests, for the betterment of the collective public interest achieved through the moral decision. Ultimately the concerns of neighbours are not as impactful on a moral compass as making a family homeless. The decision of the planning body to move forward with this moral decision, promoting the interests which transcend sub-groups within the collective, highlights an exercise of a moral based unitary trans-subjective public interest. In this case, the planning decision has therefore acted within the objective, moral and shared interests of the collective, reducing recognised inequality between its members.
Furthermore, multiple conditions have been implemented to ensure that objective public interests are not damaged by this proposal. One example are the steel gates at the site being placed at an adequate distance (5m) from the highway, ensuring the community is separate from and does not interfere with light industry in the area, prioritising and maintaining objective interests of the surrounding collective, such as business operation and HGV movement patterns. Wider objective benefits also impact the collective. This proposal for example objectively improves the area for all concerned through pavement repairs and reinstatement of street lighting (Design access statement, 2009). This highlights how collective public interest can be viewed as the key consideration regarding this proposals acceptance.
In conclusion, public interest was the key consideration of this planning decision. The public interest was, in this case, considered from a unitary perspective with decisions made reflecting this. Wider objective interests, shared by all groups within the collective, and its moral obligations, have therefore been placed above individualistic subjective issues, as they determine the collective public interest and therefore the action required. This highlights how public interest was the key consideration of this planning decision.
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Various models of professionalism exist within planning, ensuring planners can effectively act upon the problems they face. Two notable models; technical rationality and the reflective practitioner, have emerged thus far (Schon, 1983). In this case, the reflective practitioner is the dominant model.
This is illustrated through an emphasis upon the unique nature of this case, with documentation citing the decision rests upon “the exceptional circumstances of the applicant” (Officers-Report, 2009:p9). Resultantly technical knowledge has been applied to the unique case, rather than to a generalised scenario. This has produced a decision deviating from policy, including the Newport unitary development plan 1996-2011, which a planner employing technical rationality would have strictly adhered to, mechanically applying such legislation and citing this proposals deviation from it as grounds for rejection. Deviation from such technocratic policy is firmly based upon the application of technical knowledge to the unique circumstances of the case, as “ordinarily residential development in this location would not be permitted” (Officers-Report, 2009:p6) and it is only due to “such exceptional circumstances” (Ibid: p6) that this development was accepted, highlighting the reflective practitioner in action, utilising unique circumstances to make appropriate planning decisions.
The reflective practitioner model is also evident through the utilisation of past practical experience to inform decision making, including deviation from the unitary development plan, “the recent appeal decision at Ton-y-Pill is extremely relevant to the way this application is determined” (Officers-Report, 2009:p4). The previous decisions regarding similar sites have therefore been reflected upon and utilised to inform this current decision, allowing deviation from the unitary development plan as seen in other cases, citing that the same failure to fulfil “section 63 of the Planning and Compulsory purchase act” (Officers-Report, 2009:p8) applies. This clear utilisation of past experience to inform current decisions in light of unique circumstances is characteristic of the reflective practitioner.
Utilisation of technical rationality could also be argued, as the decision may be perceived as being motivated by the planning systems mandatory requirement to provide accommodation for gypsy communities under circular 30/2007. It may be perceived that selection of this site ignored public interest to mechanically apply these generic criteria.
In conclusion however, it is clear from the officer’s report this decision utilises a reflective practitioner model, due to the planning bodies treatment of the proposal using technical knowledge applied to its unique circumstances, and deployment of past experience in decision making.
Word Count: 398
Total Word Count: 2392