Spatial Planning shows how UK governments are already learning from each other

by Ben Clifford and Janice Morphet

Image of the border sign between England and Scotland

Photo by Callum Black, CC 2.0 license, source: Geograph Project

A recent article on The Guardian’s website asked ‘Are UK governments missing chances to learn from each other?’.  This drew on a recent report from the Carnegie UK trust and Joseph Rowntree Foundation which concluded that ‘Fifteen years into devolution there has been strikingly little in the way of thoughtful exchange on social policy and practice between the four countries within the UK.’

Our own research, recently reported in an article in The Geographical Journal, suggests there is far more policy sharing going on behind the scenes than this report concludes.  The British Irish Council now works through a series of workstreams to facilitate policy sharing between the nations of the UK and Ireland, and works through six-monthly meetings of relevant civil servants.  Alongside topics such as energy and social inclusion sits ‘collaborative spatial planning’.  We also found there was another regular meeting of the Chief Planners, the senior civil servants responsible for territorial planning in each of the nations of the UK and Ireland, known as the ‘Five Administration’ meetings.

Through these two forums, there has been considerable policy mobility around best practice in spatial planning and reform of the planning systems of each of the nations over the last fifteen years.  This is not to say that each nation has adopted identical policies, rather we see spatial planning as what we term a ‘policy fugue’ where similar themes and models are developed and delivered in culturally determined ways within each territory.  We argue that civil servants have been key to this policy mobility, and that planning has a been a particular site for cross-border sharing because of the professional nature of the activity.

It has tended to work because these officials meet in person behind closed doors enabling relationships to develop which can sustain contact between meetings and providing space for more frank, full discussions.  The result is, of course, that these forums are little known and under-studied, but they undoubtedly exemplify how access to a wider policy community and practice from proximate jurisdictions can benefit policy development.

The authors: Dr Ben Clifford is Lecturer in Spatial Planning and Government and Janice Morphet is Visiting Professor at the Bartlett School of Planning, University College London (UCL).

open-access-icon Ben Clifford and Janice Morphet, 2014, A policy on the move? Spatial planning and State Actors in the post-devolutionary UK and Ireland, The Geographical Journal, DOI: 10.1111/geoj.12064

60-world2 Evidence Exchange, The Carnegie UK Trust, accessed 2 February 2014

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