Decentralised Planning Potentials: A Response to My Local Council

This is a comment I wrote on a planning application within my local area which outlines my opposition to this development and why in general city councils like Coventry still have much room for potential developments in decentralised planning and the creation of new economies of scale, yet show their status quo bias when allowing planning applications like the one pushed through:

Apart from the effective removal of CT Furniture, another community charitable institution, from the area (it may move elsewhere), the increasing move toward developing and encouraging student accommodation above and beyond either productive economic capacity or affordable housing for the local population (of which this planning application is a part of) shows the short-termism of council planning, focusing on the here and now of student consumer spending over other long-term considerations.

Such is not surprising given this has been the general direction of much of city planning for the past decade, despite the purported plans of LEP-Council documents which talk about increasing productive capacity in the engineering/manufacturing sectors, particularly for SMEs in wider supply chains. Yet when Coventry has large subsets of old manufacturing facilities and warehouses with good accessibility for road freight and forms of city-based distribution networks, they are given over for student housing.

There is no doubt students and the wider university are important parts of the local economy, yet with the increasing squeeze of rents and house prices in Coventry due to limited housing stock and the ability of landlords to use student housing as a price floor for general city rents, able to increase them annually as student supply creates a buffer for such increases, we are also in deep need of general housing that is legitimately affordable for the city’s population, as well as the increased need of mixed use developments that combine local business with suburban communities.

There is no doubt that things like Friargate are beneficial, increasing the retail sector to bring in more consumer revenue and freeing up office space for the administrative wings of companies (hopefully local as well as national) to create jobs. But for a city rich in manufacturing history with productive capacity potential, the development of things like micromanufacturing centres for the production of generic goods and specialty parts for supply chains is minimal. The increasing need of distribution centres that can be centred in and around housing sites so as increase the speed of warehouse-to-home product delivery (giving a boon for distribution and shipping businesses) is almost unheard of. The development of anchor institutions such as universities to provide technical skill training and educational infrastructure for SMEs, as well as providing a means of settling student populations by getting them post-university careers in and around Coventry, is practically non-existent.

This of course requires a much more expansive local plan, bringing not just the LEP and Chambers of Commerce together but also the student unions of Warwick and Coventry universities, local committees organised through churches and voluntary organisations who can adequately voice local concerns surrounding planning applications, and local business organisations such as the local FSB branch and local employers of many kinds (as has been proposed in the Local Plan through use of employer ownership of skills training in collaboration with technical colleges to increase innovative training mechanisms), as well as national movements that support micromanufacturing and smaller economies of scale. All these organisations need to combine with Council-based working groups and committees to develop participatory mechanisms for discussing and creating policy on: local rents; the multitude of planning applications and how they can be adapted and modified; the need for local manufacturing businesses – who rely on local infrastructure due to their smaller scaling – who can provide long term employment through use of more direct supply chains (and who are more responsive to community needs than companies like the now dead City Link and JLR, who use community and educational apparatuses but still can cut jobs); and political institutions that allow for robust discussion and meaningful policy-making clout amongst concerned community members in Coventry, whether these be townhalls, hustings or whatever else.

This planning application is simply part of the miasma of Coventry city planning, which favours simple solutions to complex issues such as the one’s I’ve outlined. And while these ideas may seem fanciful, the microregulatory environments created in manufacturing centres throughout Europe and America for much of the 19th and 20th centuries, as well as the more modern examples such as the Lucas Plan for manufacturing in Britain and the development of local planning initiatives that combine citizen engagement with political and entrepreneurial leadership in places such Jackson and Cleveland, USA, and Preston, UK as well as cities like Thessaloniki, Greece and Madrid and Barcelona, Spain, show the innovative direction that radical decentralised planning through the use of local institutions and productive capacity can produce when directed and organised.

The increasing developments of customisable micro-production of ranges of products, from white goods and household consumables to cars and even housing mean that manufacturing, construction and distribution will become increasingly fragmented into communities of consumers, necessitating adequate infrastructure. This infrastructure can be used for genuine local business and SME development, creating new economies of scale that provide opportunities in multiple economic sectors throughout Coventry. A logistical revolution of mixed use communities combined through planning committees and representation of multiple stakeholders in entirely feasible. The structures and opportunity are there, but the enlarging focus on student housing and short-term needs of retail businesses mean that the city centre and surrounding communities will continue to rot, and my comments will most likely be ignored. But at least it is better to say something while fading away.

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