Sustainable Planning Versus Economic Development

There is often an assumption that ‘development’ per se contributes to economic benefits, because of the direct and flow-on impacts of the development process itself. These impacts include jobs in construction and related industries, and the prospect of local population growth, which in turn boosts local demand for goods and services. However, the sustainability paradigm implies a stricter test of economic benefit, such as the need to ensure balanced and sustainable employment opportunities, supported by complementary configurations of land uses, infrastructure and services (Roseland 2000).

In a version of the early complaints about town planning laws as an impost on private property rights, it is often argued that by seeking to control development (even in pursuit of sustainability goals), urban planning regulations constrain economic growth (Campbell 1996), and distort the market by undermining competition between different industries or developers (Kim 2011). Whilst we do not address such arguments in detail in this book, it is important to consider the implications of government regulation on private sector housing production which, as already noted, is often considered a significant form of economic growth itself.

It is important to note at this juncture that the welfare economics view of planning has weathered considerable attacks over the past century. As noted earlier, from the late 1960s and 1970s onwards, assumptions about the role and efficacy of government intervention in the market came under increasing scrutiny and challenge (See Klosterman 1985; Webster 1998 for reviews). There were ongoing debates that the increasing ‘ regulatory burden’ imposed by the planning process would deter development, unfairly constrict property rights (Alexander 1994; Klosterman 1985; Moore 1978), or simply facilitate private speculation and wealth accumulation through property investment (Sandercock 1975). Such themes continue to fuel contemporary debates about the role of the planning system in constraining housing provision and/or in being hijacked by self-interested home owners intent on preventing change to preserve neighbourhood property values. Overall, however, these challenges have shaken but not fully dismantled the overarching rationale for the planning process or the widespread acceptance of regulatory planning as the ‘least worst’ arrangement for managing the multiple issues and interests associated with urban development.

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