MEMO FROM THE CHIEF OFFICER
Brighton is an authority where there is a high level of deprivation, although we get no assistance under the Urban Programme, despite ranking 37th of Local Authorities in England and Wales in the deprivation table. We have also in 1986 joined the select band of rate-capped authorities. From that context we have many of the same issues as Islington, and similar strategies to address them.
One of the key differences is that as the Sub-Regional Centre we do have the central business district within our authority, so we provide many jobs not just for our own local people, but for a very wide hinterland as well. That changes our perspective on subjects such as offices, but generally the strategies and issues are very similar.
I want to come back to the opening theme of this session and consider whether there is a specifically Christian vision which might avoid this pragmatism of which we have been talking. We should also want to avoid the converse, which might arise with a thoroughly up to date development plan and a Secretary of State prepared to take notice of it. That could give rise to a kind of legalism, coming in by slavishly following a certain number of policies. (I very much agree that councillors do need to keep officers on their toes, so that they look at all the policies rather than selecting one or two that might be relevant.)
I also want to avoid the depression that was hinted at in the papers at the earlier Seminar, whereby practitioners might feel their failure to ensure that a new Jerusalem has descended on their patch and are getting very downcast as a result. My answer to the question as to whether there is a specifically Christian vision would be an emphatic 'Yes!'
Firstly, then REBELLION. 'Why is planning needed?' Because humankind is in rebellion against God. The world was created by God and it was good, but we have disobeyed God's commands and as a result the world is in the mess that it is in now.
Because of our selfishness we fail to think out the consequences of our own actions, others fail likewise, and so the riches of the world are not shared out as they ought to be. The goodness of the world is destroyed by pollution. People know that there is no need for famine in the world, but there are people starving. We are all tainted by it.
So clearly there is a need to restrain humankind's tendency to selfishness, and if we think about the whole purpose of Town Planning and Development Control in that context, it does help us to see the task in which we are involved. If the whole spectrum of creation can be redeemed, we are co-operating as God's fellow workers in that task.
Secondly, REDEMPTION. Can a specifically Christian Planner be better able to do that task than a humanist Planner? The answer to that should be 'yes', because we should have a greater grasp of the reality of the situation we are working in. The reality of our own limitations, our own simpleness - albeit we trust now being eliminated by the Spirit of Christ in our hearts.
Seeing the situation that the whole of the world is in, and our own nature, we might well see that we need wisdom and strength outside ourselves in order to undertake the task with which we are faced, and of course we do have the Spirit of Christ promised to us to help us in those tasks.
The conclusion of Chris Caddy's paper (reproduced here as Chapter 6) to the last Seminar was that we can still stand after the buffeting of this world (Ephesians 6), and indeed we should not lose heart when we have the Spirit within us. We should not grow weary in well doing, and the Lord will renew our strength as we wait upon him. Again, to pick up the point of James 1:5, wisdom is available to us if we ask for it.
So, if we become so enmeshed in our day-to-day Development Control activities that we are doing them purely by routine, we will on some occasions be missing out on assistance that we could have got if only we had laid some more of our problems before God and sought his help and assistance.
Thirdly then to the RULES - which of course are guidelines or policies or principles - but alliteration demands the word 'Rules'! Where might one derive these from? We can derive a significant number from the Word of God and that is where we can expect to find assistance:-
1. We are encouraged in the Scriptures very much to use our minds, so as professionals there can be no excuse for not having thought out the implications of any proposal we are confronted with. We see this right back in Genesis, where God is encouraging the man initially to name all the animals. But we can see it coming through into the New Testament, in phrases such as 'working out your own salvation with fear and trembling'.
It is perhaps not quite the context in which I am trying to apply it, but nevertheless I think we have to be prepared to do our research, to do our thinking, to search the policies and to undertake consultation to find out what people really think.
2. Conservation is an ethic which comes very much out of the Scriptures. The world was made as good. I don't think this necessarily only means that we are involved in small issues - issues of dormer windows, issues of tree preservation on the local planning scale, but it can involve some of the broad issues that come only occasionally to the Development Control scene (and probably very fortunately, as I don't think many of us would want to sit through a Sizewell or Dounreay Nuclear Power Station public enquiry very often!). Issues like that do involve conservation. I was very much struck by observations which Joan Ruddock made at the Labour Party Political Conference a week or so ago, saying basically that in the world today we are borrowing from our children. That is an interesting perspective on conservation.
3. The concept of Justice. We are all equal before God in creation, we are all equal in our need for redemption and in the availability of salvation to us. If in Christ there is no distinction between people of different races, between male and female, between people of different classes, between slaves and freemen, then we must be trying to ensure that there is justice in the application of development control. It may be just between two neighbours or it may be over much greater issues - some of the issues that have been so well presented to us this morning.
This is a recurring theme throughout much of the Old Testament - the cause of the Prophets, be it Amos, be it Isaiah. Remember that Christ Himself quoted from Isaiah 61 in announcing His own ministry. There can be no excuse for seeing His ministry purely as a spiritual ministry; it was a ministry to body, mind and spirit: the total person.
So I think Development Control is very much in the mainstream of such as the Faith in the City report, and if we are going to be walking in Christ's shoes we will be very much concerned with the ethics of justice.
At this point practitioners can get themselves very unpopular with sections of the public and their own councillors, if they stand out in support of the kinds of development that might help justice. I had my most difficult time in Oxford when I was seeking support for the Simon House Hostel proposed in the centre of the town, which I think eventually got through on hair's-breadth voting figures with a split in the controlling group, many voting with the opposition. That certainly didn't add to my popularity with the Council. Similar situations have come up with day centres for the homeless and issues like that in Brighton.
Simon House, Oxford
In an ideal world conservation and justice would be always in harmony. However, we are not in an ideal world but in a fallen one. Thus, if choices have to be made, perhaps they have to be made in the direction of 'bias to the poor', even if that might conflict with other principles one might want to pursue.
4. Participation is a further principle which does ultimately come out of the Scriptures, and indeed out of the work of Christ himself for us on the cross, and one that might help us avoid danger of legalism. The self-giving love of Christ does force us to look at every individual case, every individual circumstance, with a concern for the people involved.
In Christian ethics, situations will not always be black and white. If they were, life would be very easy, but it is not! There may be a need to take decisions which may not adhere strictly to policy in order to be really concerned that the real needs of people are met.
Participation should also be related to our own humility as servants of Christ. If we recognise our own limitations, and see in all that we do on behalf of others that they are made in the image of God, and are at least potentially our brothers and sisters in Christ, we welcome the comments of the public and the widest possible participation. We will recognise the rights of elected members to overrule our judgement. They are accountable to their electorate, not to professional staff.
God gives us a free choice whether we accept salvation; He also enables us to choose a king, even though that may not be God's view as to how we should be best organised (1 Sam. 8). But if God is prepared to accept us making our decisions - even though they are not always the wisest - then we should welcome the opportunity for all people involved in the Development Control process to be able to express their views.
I was very interested to hear about the completely open committee system in Islington mentioned by Pete Broadbent (Chapter 7 here) In my days in Oxford we did have a principle whereby, by prior arrangement, the parties would be able to give views directly to Committee, but it never got to more than one or two per committee meeting. I can see great advantages if it can be manageable.
Principles, not pragmatism
None of the foregoing is going to provide specific answers to any given Development Control situation. However, if one tries to keep these principles constantly in mind when working on any particular problem, even a domestic extension, we might avoid the danger set out in the theme for today's session. We would not merely be comparing one application with the next, or simple trying to muddle through each batch.
Clearly having clear policy guidance and policies set down in a way that embodies these kind of principles will be a tremendous benefit to any Development Control system. Certainly I would look to my new Borough-wide Local Plan, which tackles many of the issues we have been thinking about: a concern for minorities and for equality, as well as dealing with the housing and jobs, and conservation of the environment. If that then goes through the full consultation processes and then becomes the point of reference for the Development Control staff, that must be a great help.
But above all we have to remember we are doing our work 'as unto the Lord', and if we are open to the leading of his Spirit and his Word then perhaps we will put into practice the well known maxim drummed into Planning students - that they are 'Planning for People'. If we are serving God with all our heart, strength and soul, that will enable us to serve our neighbours somewhat better than we would otherwise be able to do.
We cannot plan people into the kingdom of God. That will need re-creation of their hearts rather than the provision of adequate recreation facilities, to play on words. Only God by the work of His Spirit can do that, but if we are seeking to sustain, and have a constant vision of, a fabric of society that would be the physical and social embodiment of the Kingdom of God, then we will have a vision which will keep our Development Control from becoming too narrow, too restrictive or too negative. It will enable it to be truly serving Christ's Kingdom here upon earth.
Faith in the City - 1985 - Report of the Archbishop of Canterbury's Commission on Urban Priority Areas.
From ACPA Newsletter No. 13 & 14, Winter 1988/89