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China showing the way in urban planning says RTPI

China’s success in using planning to grow and develop the economy should send a strong signal to UK politicians and the public, the Royal Town Planning Institute says.

China’s recognition of how urban planning is vital to economic growth and civic pride shows what can be achieved when national and local policymakers provide leadership and support for planners.

As the UK develops its strategic relationship with China on major projects and investments such as the National Infrastructure Plan and the Northern Powerhouse, these findings can be useful to provide a more positive interpretation of planning and help counter the perception that planning is a passive obstacle to economic growth" - Mike Harris, RTPI

In a new RTPI-commissioned study, Professor Fulong Wu, Bartlett professor of planning at University College London, sets out China’s experience in using planning to drive economic growth while trying to limit the environmental impact of urbanisation.

“This study undertaken by one of RTPI’s accredited planning schools enables planners everywhere to learn more about planning through the exchange of ideas with other countries.  It shows that planning can be at the heart of society, properly resourced and integrated in a multi-disciplinary way," said RTPI president Janet Askew.

Mike Harris, Head of Research of the RTPI said: “We see a confident and positive interpretation of the role of planning in China which is not always the case in the UK. We see a strong willingness to use of planning and spatial plans by Chinese cities to compete and grow, something which can benefit the UK’s devolved city-regions.

“Of course there are problems with their system but the key lesson here is China’s attitude and confidence in robust planning. As the UK develops its strategic relationship with China on major projects and investments such as the National Infrastructure Plan and the Northern Powerhouse, these findings can be useful to provide a more positive interpretation of planning and help counter the perception that planning is a passive obstacle to economic growth.”

Based on evidence drawn from across China in places such as Kunshan (a satellite town near Shanghai), the Yangtze River delta region, and Zhengdong New District in Zhenzhou, the research finds that:

  • there is a fundamentally different attitude to planning in China from that in parts of the UK. From the highest political level to municipal officials, there is firm confidence in planning and planners to be a leading force in fostering economic growth.
  • while the Chinese context is very different and the Chinese planning system is not a perfect model to be followed by other countries, it does illustrate how extreme liberalisation of the planning system should be avoided, as this would weaken the ability of planners to shape the development market. Instead of solely relying on private initiatives and waiting for the development proposals from private developers, planning should be given the financial and political support to lead new development.
  • planning is the primary tool for municipalities to attract new industrial and residential development, and strategic plans are a key method used to promote areas.
  • Chinese private developers rely on the government and its planners to spearhead large-scale developments, since the involvement of the government significantly reduces risks.
  • although in some countries planning is often portrayed as an obstacle to growth, in the Chinese case it has proven to be indispensable for the long-term economic success of the country.
  • “As we need to develop a greater knowledge of the economic impact of planning, getting support from the RTPI to undertake research on planning for growth in China allowed us to shed light on this issue from a Chinese perspective," said Professor Fulong.  "Looking at other contexts can allow to get a better understanding of the way planning can support growth and help to create more economically sustainable and successful places.”

The RTPI-commissioned study “Planning China’s Future: How planners contribute to growth and development” has been undertaken by Professor Fulong Wu, Dr Fangzhu Zhang and Zheng Wang at Bartlett School of Planning, UCL. It is funded through the RTPI’s Small Projects Impact Research (SPIRe) scheme.

The research can be downloaded at: www.rtpi.org.uk/planninginchina

If you would like to contact Jackie Whitelaw about this, or any other story, please email jackie.whitelaw@infrastructure-intelligence.com.