Catriona Robertson

journeys at home and abroad

Is town planning fair?

The Royal Town Planning Institute‘s strapline is “mediation of space – making of place”.  The Swiss referendum on a blanket ban on new minarets throughout the country (instead of the local planning authorities deciding each application in the usual way) has highlighted the contested nature of space and place, especially for religious buildings.

16th century town plan of Diyarbakir

How do we decide who can build what where, or what a building can be used for?  The RTPI goes on to define what planning is:

Planning involves twin activities – the management of the competing uses for space, and the making of places that are valued and have identity.

Places of worship, along with many other kinds of building, are valued and have identity – but it’s hard to obtain permission either to change the use of an old building or to build a new place of worship.  In London I’m told there are hundreds of pending planning applications, particularly from independent churches, newer Christian denominations and from minority faith traditions.

Anglicans from the Caribbean arriving in London in the 50s & 60s received, at best, a mixed reception from the Church of England.  It’s no surprise that some of those who felt the chill wind of exclusion joined newer churches which offered a warm welcome.

Fifty years on, these churches have grown in size and number and their leadership and congregations are often from black and minority ethnic backgrounds.   But many of them still meet in church buildings belonging to older denominations, in sports halls and in  schools.  This restricts not only their ability to gather for worship, for marriage and funeral services but also to run community programmes such as Saturday schools – in other words, decades later, they are still at a disadvantage.

Planning Aid for London gives professional advice to faith (and other) groups.  The GLA commissioned a piece of research.  Maybe it’s time to look again at how we mediate space, how we share our city and to explore more fully the basis on which we make planning decisions.

The beautiful town plan above is from Turkey and included in 1001 Inventions.

One comment on “Is town planning fair?

  1. Pingback: Edinburgh to London « Catriona Robertson

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This entry was posted on 5 January 2010 by in London and tagged , , , , .
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