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23 August 2021

by Annie Pugh, Heriot-Watt University

New research from the Institute for Social Policy, Housing, Equalities Research (I-SPHERE) based at Heriot-Watt University has shown that the planning process in England increases racial inequality, although it clearly has the potential to address needs by residents of ethnic minorities.

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The study, funded by the Oak Foundation, focused on exploratory case studies and interviews with key informants conducted over the past nine months.

The team found that planners and housing professionals lack the confidence, skills and resources to actively address racial inequality in housing, obtain socially conservative results, and limit opportunities to achieve racial equality.

The results also showed the view within the planning industry that formal equality is sufficient for the pursuit of social justice, but does not translate into equality of outcomes for multiple groups. This means that planners and housing specialists may be reluctant to address specific residents’ needs in policy and practice.

Opportunities for public consultation have been found to reinforce the existing unequal balance of power by favoring those who have the time, knowledge and confidence to participate. The evidence showed that not enough is being done now to engage residents of ethnic minorities, low-income and other less-heard groups.

While online consultations used during the pandemic have helped improve accessibility, they have the potential to reflect patterns of digital exclusion and so there is an urgent need to review the process.

Amy Bristow, I-SPHERE researcher at Heriot-Watt University, said: “While there has been a positive shift in the past few years towards policies that support the needs of ethnic minorities in several areas, accelerating through movements like Black Lives Matter the planning system in England has stoically remained traditional.

“This has resulted in a system that has no meaningful approach to tackling deeply ingrained inequalities and that has remained largely unchanged for 40 years. Our research shows that planners remain convinced that equal treatment leads to equal outcomes; As researchers, we know that this is an outdated approach that does not produce socially just results. There is currently no requirement for local authorities to include ethnic or religious groups in assessing housing needs. While some areas consider the housing needs of these groups in their strategic housing market assessment, this cannot be translated into specific measures aimed at improving housing outcomes for different groups or communities.

“Addressing racial inequalities in housing and meeting the housing needs of ethnic minorities are not currently core objectives of the planning system and are nowhere specifically included in national planning policy or planning for the future, the government’s White Paper on Planning, study found that planning has the potential to influence the design and quality of new housing developments to meet the cultural needs of different groups, this does not happen often enough in practice and urgently needs to change. “

Priya Shah is the founder from BAME in Property, an organization for BAME and non-BAME professionals who are passionate about increasing ethnic diversity in the real estate and planning sectors, she said, “I grew up in Harrow so I experienced it first hand how important diversity is in the planning process in this particular district, with this new report and dur ch the work of BAME in Property we urgently demand more diversity. ”in real estate and planning to ensure that the right people with different backgrounds and life experiences make the decisions for those who are most excluded from planning decisions. Focusing on the next generation of planners is key, and the recommendations in this report on integrating diversity into the university curriculum should begin this academic year. We have been delayed for too long and it is important that changes are made now. “

Professor Suzanne Fitzpatrick, Director of I-SPHERE at Heriot-Watt University, said:” Our research has shown that the Municipal areas we studied have a consensus that planning can have a significant impact on the exterior and interior design of new properties and that these factors could be better used to meet the housing needs of multiple communities. ”

The report’s authors are now calling for equality considerations to be embedded in all proposed central government planning reforms to force local authorities to consider racial equality issues in all planning decisions and to prevent these considerations from becoming swastika exercises.

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