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Title: The making of the National Planning Policy Framework : an investigation into the practices and (post)politics of doing pro-market planning reform in the UK central state
Author: Slade, Daniel John
ISNI:       0000 0004 7428 5678
Awarding Body: University of Liverpool
Current Institution: University of Liverpool
Date of Award: 2018
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The UK Coalition Government came to power in 2010 promising radical reform of the English planning system, and a key part of this programme was the introduction of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). This drastically reduced the volume of existing national-level policy, and introduced measures intended to spur economic growth, increase housing delivery, and localise some elements of decision making. However, it was the creation of the NPPF which makes it one of the most remarkable policy episodes in the recent history of English planning reform; not only did the Government deploy novel 'open' policy making strategies, but it sparked an unprecedented national campaign, led by national newspapers and some of the largest membership organisations in Europe. Despite its significance, as yet, there are no in-depth academic accounts of this important policy episode. This is partly indicative of the fact that the central state - defined here as central government departments and their agencies, the core executive, and the non-state actors who work directly with these agents to reproduce state power - very rarely comes into focus as a concrete and peopled policy making site in the critical spatial governance and planning (CSGP) literatures. Because the CSGP literatures rely on accounts of national-level policy making which rest at discursive or institutional levels of analysis, we know very little about how the actual practices, strategies, and rationalities of agents in Whitehall shape and interact with wider trajectories of spatial governance in England. In response, this thesis asks and answers the question: How did different practices, strategies, and rationalities of 'getting policy done' in the UK central state shape the development of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) from ideas initially presented in the green paper Open Source Planning, and what do they suggest about future trajectories in English spatial governance reform? I draw on Bent Flyvbjerg's 'phronetic' approach to social science to provide a fine-grained and 'practice-orientated' case narrative of the development of the NPPF. This narrative runs from the Conservative Party's development of its 2010 manifesto, through the Coalition negotiations, the NPPF's drafting process, departmental negotiations, and the national campaigns, to the production of the final version and its public reception. From this account, I trace out the links between the policy making practices of agents involved in the creation of the document, and wider trajectories in English spatial governance. In doing so this thesis also feeds into contemporary debates in the CSGP literature about the role of the central state in shifting modes of spatial governance, the concept of post-politics, and to what extent it helps explain the actual policy making strategies pursued by civil servants and ministers. The case narrative primarily draws on 27 semi-structured in-depth interviews with civil servants, politicians, and other individuals personally involved in the NPPF process, alongside documentary analysis. The findings highlight how the 'open' policy making approach deployed by Ministers rested on neoliberal critiques of state-bureaucratic power which underpinned the Coalition's wider planning reforms. Indeed, the reconfiguration of the policy making practices of, and relationships between, agents in the central state was a fundamental component of the Big Society and Localism projects. It is arguable that the key thrust of the Coalition's neoliberalising planning reforms and political strategies during this period was less about changing planning policy per se, than the ways and means by which it was 'done'. The case narrative also illustrates how important it is to conceptualise the UK central state not as a single policy actor, but as a heterogeneous collection of policy actors, each possessing different spatial governance agendas and different policy making rationalities. The institutional architecture of Whitehall systematically mediates between these different interest groups, which have different spatial governance agendas. Understanding the way these interactions are structured and restructured in practice - particularly between the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) and the Treasury - is an important part of understanding the ways in which neoliberal discourses dominate English planning reform. Drawing on the core executive studies tradition in British political science literature, I argue that the dynamics of this DCLGTreasury relationship during the creation of the NPPF point to important trends in the operation of the state which may have a significant bearing upon neoliberalising trajectories of spatial governance in England. Most significantly, through a process I term the 'neoliberalisation of the Westminster Model', policy making power in the central state is becoming increasingly centralised towards the core executive, with consequences for the types of policy knowledge deployed, the ability of different non-government agents to influence policy, and the framing of planning-related policy problems. Furthermore, this centralisation of power in the central state challenges assumptions - underpinning much post-politics CSGP research - about a state-level shift from 'government' to 'governance'. Ultimately, however, this thesis' central argument is a simple and modest one; the central state represents a crucially important spatial governance policy making site, collection of actors, and target of neoliberal restructuring. As such, the CSGP stand to gain a great deal from engaging with the central state, and the day-to-day practices which comprise it.
Supervisor: Sykes, Olivier ; Haughton, Graham ; Dolowitz, David Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral