The editors of Town Planning Review (TPR) have selected the following paper as the Featured Article in TPR 93.3, it is available to read Open Access for 2022 as part of LUP Open Planning:
When asked to describe the paper and highlight its importance, the authors stated the following:
In 2020, Town Planning Review, published Stefano Moroni’s thoughtful and engaging piece on “The role of planning and the role of planners: political dimensions, ethical principles, communicative interaction”, in which Moroni emphatically argued the need for a clearer distinction between the role of planning and the role of planners.
We were convinced by this argument, but at the same time were struck by the absence of both private sector planning and private sector planners from this narrative. This had the galvanising effect of encouraging us to write the Viewpoint piece published in the journal earlier this year. We say ‘galvanising effect’ because we had been thinking and talking about the perception and position of planners in the private sector, on and off for a few years, without having put words on paper. We thank Moroni for this motivation!
It is not, however, only Moroni who omits the private sector from analysis. With some notable exceptions (highlighted in our piece), private sector planners have been widely absent from planning theory and study. Whilst there are justifiable reasons for this – most notable being that in many countries these planners have, until recently, made up only a small proportion of the planning workforce – we believe that failing to engage with these planners limits the breadth of our scholarship. Can we truly explore the impact of planning and how it is practiced, if it is only understood as a public institutional activity?
Can it really be the case that nearly half of the planning workforce in the UK now employed in the private sector is motivated more by profit than a broader purpose? This is the typical characterisation of the private sector planner within existing literature, which will continue to endure as truth without any counterfactual evidence. Many planners known to both of us would strongly counter this, and would be highly critical of the lack of academic engagement with the reality of their practice.
One of the aforementioned ‘notable’ notable exceptions is research carried out in the UK (and covered in this journal) “the Working in the Public Interest” project. This tackled the important subject of the out-sourcing of planning services to the private sector. What this research did not do in any great detail, was to engage with the significant proportion of private sector planners advising private clients. It is this nexus that we are particularly interested in exploring.
We therefore use the platform provided by the Viewpoint to raise some important questions for debate, such as: how do planners in the private sector work towards conceptions such as the public interest?; and how do they strike a balance between the ethical requirements of their profession and the demands of their clients?
It is important to repeat here, that we did not want the viewpoint to be seen as an attack on our fellow planning scholars for a lack of engagement with this sector. We hope instead that publishing the piece will act as a prompt for further debate within both practice and academia.