Planning Matters: War is hell – and planning can be, too

March 01 2020
Planning Matters: War is hell – and planning can be, too

With Chris Gosling,

IT already seems like history itself, but the Oscars were handed out in early February – and hopes were high for the British film 1917.

In the end this atmospheric, immersive film gained three of them, but don’t let that meagre return put you off – 1917 is still well worth seeing.

After watching it, I was sidetracked by some parallels with the usual subject of this column. It reminded me firstly of the dread of, not going over the top to face likely death, but the time you meet someone on your first day in the job who expects you to have all the answers. This feeling must be common to starting most jobs. You don’t want to admit that it is your first day and the person facing you expects you to be experienced, when you have received nothing more than ‘basic training’. In my case that was four years of ‘basic’ training, but you soon learn the difference between theory and practice when you are pitched in to the real thing. Of course, if you survive those early encounters, the first thing that you learn is to keep your tin hat handy at all times. You soon learn when it is safe to put your head above the parapet but you also that if you never do it, it is difficult to achieve much.

Another parallel between planning and the First World War how people try to exploit what they have. WWI was the first mechanised, industrial war. Both sides tried to resolve the stalemate of the Western Front first on land and then under and over it.

When it comes to planning, development – particularly creating new houses – is similar. It can take place on land in the form of building or changes of use. It also covers what happens under land – creating basements, engineering works and mining, for instance. The other way of exploiting assets is by building upwards, and this is likely to de-regulated in some form in the future. And in a parallel to the war at sea, in the last few years high house prices have driven some people to live on the water, in canal boats, with planning also covering things like marinas.

While WWI was all about looking for an advantage over the enemy to take a chunk of no man’s land, usually temporarily, development is all about finding a way of getting the best use or value out of what you already own. The old adage about land value is that they are not making any more of it, and therefore it can only go up in price. On that basis, the next stage is looking up or down.

One last parallel: ideally the two opponents in the planning ‘war’ - the public and private sectors – can make sure that the whole experience is more like the Christmas football match in no man’ s land, rather than the descent into Hell of the rest of the four years on the Western Front.

That reminds me – where did I leave my hard hat?