Town Planning

  • Graham Hallett


Town planning in some sense is as old as towns themselves. The pendulum has, however, swung between the tight formal layout of the baroque city and the minimal planning of early 19th century boom towns or some Third World cities today. The history of cities (as reviewed in Mr. Lewis Mumford’s splendid, if not unchallengeable, book)1 suggests a need to balance some measure of control with variety and initiative. Some of the most humane urban environments — such as the medieval city — have been produced under a type of planning which, within broad rules, allowed considerable scope for different styles and uses. Too much uniformity, or an excessive segregation of uses, can destroy the ‘life’ of a district. Sometimes this segregation results from market forces; suburban living has led to business districts which are ‘dead’ after 5 p.m. But an even more pervasive influence (in some countries) has been the principle of segregated uses recommended by the ‘Charter of Athens’ in 1933. The virtues of mixed uses was perhaps the most telling point in Miss Jane Jacob’s polemic against the planners, and one which now seems to be gaining acceptance.2


Land Market Discretionary Power Century Urbanisation Development Control Town Planning 
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Select Bibliography

  1. Brian J. L. Berry, The Human Consequences of Urbanisation, Macmillan, 1973.Google Scholar
  2. G. E. Cherry, Town Planning in its Social Context, Leonard Hill, 1973.Google Scholar
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    Lewis Mumford, The City in History. Secker and Warburg, 1961.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities Jonathan Cape, 1962.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Planning and the Future op. cit. p. 45.Google Scholar
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    The need to retain aspects of the ‘rule of law’ in town planning, while accepting that there must also be administrative discretion, has been eloquently argued by Professor J. Jowell. See ‘The legal control of discretion’ Public Law (1973) p. 178 and ‘The Limits of law in urban planning’ Current Legal Problems (1977) p. 16.Google Scholar
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    There are virtually no inter-European comparative studies. An Anglo-Dutch study is being undertaken by Oxford Polytechnic for the Centre for Environmental Studies.Google Scholar
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    Hallett (1977), p. 124–6. The Uthwatt Committee drew a sharp distinction between ‘undeveloped’ and ‘developed’ land. For undeveloped land it recommended expropriation at existing use value. For developed land it recommended a system of taxing rises in site value as ‘the only effective way of collecting betterment without hampering individual enterprise in the development of land’ (para. 51 ).Google Scholar
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    W. Ashworth. The Genesis of Modern British Town Planning, London, 1954.Google Scholar
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    M. Clawson and P. Hall (eds). Planning and Urban Growth: An Anglo-American Comparison. Johns Hopkins University Press, 1973.Google Scholar
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    Some, possibly untypical, horror stories are related in Planning for New Homes by Nigel Moor and Robert Langton, London, 1978.Google Scholar
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    The Town and Country Planning Act, 1968, required local authorities to produce ‘structure plans’ which would purportedly be simpler and quicker to produce than the previous more detailed plans. By the end of 1977, of the 83 plans in England and Wales, only 39 had been submitted and of these, only 13 approved. Scotland introduced a system of simple, quick ‘Regional Reports’ which have worked well. They are ‘provisional’ and not supposed to replace Structure Plans.Google Scholar
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    Greater London Development Plan, Report of the Panel of Inquiry Vol. I. Dept of the Environment 1973 p. 27.Google Scholar
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    I must say frankly that I am angry at what is almost an abuse of town planning which some development control policies amount to — decisions which have trivial and sometimes detrimental effects on the quality of life which good planning should enhance. ... Should it be a development control committee’s business to decide on whether a property is converted into two or three flats simply by reference to whether it has a history of multi-occupation? — Should they concern themselves with the colour of roof tiles or the precise style of fencing or whether baths should be installed instead of showers? Or storm porches, or the use of lofts for living accommodation? Should they busy themselves with insisting that two large expensive family houses should be built in place of four smaller cheaper ones, simply because of a personal preference unrelated to need, demand, design or density standards?’ This, surprisingly and encouragingly, is from a speech to the Town and Country Planning Association, 1, Dec. 1976, by Mr. R. Freeson, Minister of Housing. One is reminded of the control of manufacturers’ specifications under the Mercantilist system.Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    General criticisms, and proposals for reform, are put forward in Land for Housing The Housebuilders Federation, 1977. Some more limited administrative streamlining is advocated in Review of the Development Control System by George Dobry, QC., HMSO, 1975, 8th Report from the Expenditure Committee House of Commons Paper 359, 1977, and a report on Development Control by a working party of the RTPI, 1978.Google Scholar
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    Housing Land Availability in the South East Department of the Environment and Housing Research Institute, 1975.Google Scholar
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    The defects of excessive concentration of activity are not cured by ‘pedestrianisation’ (an unavoidable word). Like many other urban layouts — motorways, rail transport, suburban shopping centres — pedestrianisation should neither be regarded as a panacea nor dismissed out of hand. It is one technique among many, all of which are needed. When the environment of a shopping street is being destroyed by heavy traffic, pedestrianisation provides a means of giving back its original function. But the street is best suited to small shops, selling ‘shopping’ rather than convenience goods. A pedestrianised city street lined by supermarkets lacks the virtues of either a ‘shopping’ street or a suburban shopping centre. This point is becoming clear even in West Germany, which has allowed some suburban shopping centres and produced central pedestrian precincts of superb quality. But when a pedestrianised street attracts too many people, it not only loses its advantages but also drains away the ‘life’ from surrounding districts, which can become a ‘grey’ zone of car parks, loading bays and increased vehicular traffic. There is a consequent fall in the number of small shops, and in the resident population. Interest is therefore turning to methods of reducing and slowing down traffic — by wider pavements, and ‘sleeping policemen’ — rather than eliminating it. Such an approach (as in Delft) encourages an extension rather than an intensification of the town centre, and the maintenance of mixed uses.Google Scholar
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    R. T. P. I. Planning and the future. London, 1976.Google Scholar
  26. 26.
    There is an important distinction between removing poverty and reducing inequalities (or differences, to use a more neutral term) in income or living standards. Very different results would, for example, be obtained by (a) taxing at 100 per cent all income over a certain level and distributing it among the rest of the population and (b) establishing a guaranteed minimum income financed by a slowly progressive income tax. But both would ‘reduce inequality’, possibly by the same amount (as measured by, say, the Gini coefficient). May there not be a case, in the British situation, for increasing the rewards for skill and enterprise? Similar issues arise more specifically in housing policy — e.g. in the ‘levelling-up’ approach of ensuring that everyone is able to obtain a minimum level of housing as compared with the ‘levelling down’ approach which has underlain the argument for abolishing, tax relief on mortgages. On this and similar issues the RTPI clearly has no competence to pronounce. But if it is not aware of them, it might do better to stick to Professor Keeble’s more limited, and lucid, definition of town planning.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Graham Hallett 1979

Authors and Affiliations

  • Graham Hallett
    • 1
  1. 1.University CollegeCardiffUK

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