England’s planning process ‘reinforcing racial inequality’


ENGLAND’S planning process is ‘reinforcing racial inequality’, Heriot-Watt University has said following a new study.

The Edinburgh-based learning institution revealed that there is ‘clear potential’ for the country’s planning process to support the needs of ethnic minority residents.

However, it said that its research team found that planners and housing professionals lack the confidence, skills and resources required to actively address racial inequality in housing, thus ‘perpetuating’ socially conservative outcomes and limiting opportunities for achieving racial equality.

The university added that findings also revealed a view within the English planning profession that formal equality of treatment is sufficient in the pursuit of justice, but it is not translating into equality of outcome for multiple groups. This means planners and housing specialists can be reluctant to address specific resident needs in policy and practice.

Public consultation opportunities were found to reinforce existing unequal power relationships by favouring those with the time, knowledge, and confidence to participate. The evidence found by the university showed that currently, ‘not enough’ is being done to engage residents from ethnic minority, low-income and other less frequently heard groups.

The research was published by the university’s institute for social policy, housing, equalities research (I-SPHERE). Amy Bristow, I-SPHERE researcher, said, “While the last few years has seen a positive shift towards policies that support the needs of ethnic minorities across multiple areas, accelerated by movements like Black Lives Matter, the planning system in England has remained stoically traditional.

“This has resulted in a system that lacks any meaningful approach to tackling ingrained inequalities, and one which has remained largely unchanged for 40 years. Our research highlights that planners continue to hold a belief that equality of treatment will result in an equality of outcome; as researchers, we know this is an outdated approach that’s not effective in achieving socially just results.

“There’s currently no requirement for local authorities to include ethnic or faith groups in an assessment of housing needs. While some areas do consider the housing needs of these groups in their Strategic Housing Market Assessment, this doesn’t translate into specific policies aimed at improving housing outcomes for diverse groups or communities.

“Tackling racial inequalities in housing and meeting the housing needs of ethnic minorities are not currently core aims of the planning system and are not explicitly included anywhere within the National Planning Policy Framework or Planning for the Future, the Government White Paper on planning. While our study found that planning has the potential to influence the design and quality of new housing developments to meet the cultural needs of different groups, this isn’t happening often enough in practice and that has got to urgently change.”

Priya Shah, founder of BAME in Property, an organisation for BAME and non-BAME professionals who are passionate about increasing ethnic diversity in the property and planning sectors, called for more diversity in property and planning.

She said, “I grew up in Harrow, so I’ve witnessed first-hand the importance of diversity in the planning process in this particular borough. This new report and through the work of BAME in Property, we are urgently calling for more diversity in property and planning to ensure the right people with different backgrounds and lived experiences are making the decisions for those most excluded from planning decisions. Focusing on the next generation of planners is key and this report’s recommendations to build diversity into the higher education curriculum should begin this academic year. We have delayed for too long and it’s essential that changes are made now.”