Property rights, public choice and urban containment : a study of the British planning system
Following the 1947 Town and Country Planning Act, a persistent policy of urban containment has been pursued throughout rural areas of the United Kingdom. In spite of growing evidence that the effects of containment are incompatible with key aspects of public policy towards housing, agriculture and the environment, there is little sign that government agencies are considering the possibility of a serious policy re-think. This thesis represents the first attempt to analyse the continued commitment to this core of the British land use planning system from the perspective of public choice theory. The thesis begins with an outline of the institutional focus of public choice analysis, considering the fundamental questions of 'market failure', 'government failure' and the theoretical case for state intervention in the market for land. Having examined the evolving context of urban containment in the post-war period, the thesis proceeds to apply key elements of public choice to decision-making incentives in the planning system. The empirical analysis commences with an account of interest group behaviour on the 'demand side' of the political system. A subsequent section turns to the 'supply side', examining bureaucratic incentive structures and the role of regulatory agencies in the management of land use change. A still further section considers the role of legislative incentives on the 'supply side'. Finally, the empirical analysis concludes with a case study of a major planning dispute. The evidence presented suggests that a combination of institutional incentives on both the 'demand' and 'supply' sides of the 'political market' has led to the continual growth of restrictive land use regulation at the expense of a diffuse and unorganized mass of urban taxpayers and consumers. The thesis concludes by outlining a possible institutional alternative based on private property rights, which might help to avoid these undesirable elements of the British planning system.