Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Review of the year - the job

Possibly the worst blog post I've ever written where I accidentally digress into an extended discussion of marine spatial planning.

Exactly this time last year I started my present job, Lecturer in Urban Management, at the School of the Built Environment, Heriot-Watt University after spending 15 months as a Civil Servant in the Scottish Government. My employer has been fantastic at easing me in gently and I'll be at full tear-out hair stage in about three weeks' time. 

First of all, I have to say this was the best job move I've made in my life so far. Much as a lot of the work in the Scottish Government was interesting the organisation was seemingly glacial about things that mattered and worked ridiculously quickly and hard over the most minor of details. The thing I missed most in the Scottish Government was being able to think, especially to think critically. As my bizarrely popular post on the National Performance Framework testifies, I'm finding the freedom fantastic.

The trouble I'm still finding is that of my academic research identity. I think I'll always be a researcher on urban inequalities and public policy. The trouble I feel is, what is there to add? I'll have a couple of articles out in the New Year on urban regeneration. The first asks whether, in the rush to mainstreaming regeneration through neighbourhood management, have we lost what regeneration is/can be all about in terms of transforming neighbourhoods? The second highlights how the continued stigma and stereotypes of neighbourhoods prevents regeneration policy ever being considered a "success" no matter how successful it is. I managed to dash out my contribution the theory we a re-assessment of the application of Habermasian critical theory in planning research and got that submitted. However, much as I can wax lyrical on Habermas, I have an inkling it's going to be knocked back by the journal. I suppose, on reflection, that given the long lead-in times for academic publishing, this blog has been a big bit of developing my research identity. 

One thing I've really not blogged about on here was my continuing minor interest in marine spatial planning. For those of you who don't know (and I wouldn't blame you for not doing so) the UK Government and Scottish Government are implementing their separate and complementary marine spatial planning and marine development licensing systems at the moment. The Scottish Government consulted on their national marine plan earlier this year. In my response I helpfully pointed out that is was a description of what was already there, not a plan of what Scotland would like the marine environment to look like. 

Three things really interest me about marine spatial planning. Firstly, MSP as an implementation act. This is the first time the UK has implemented a brand new spatial planning system since 1947 and we've over a century of learning from land-use planning to call on to produce a system that is efficient, effective and responsive. And it looks like we're ignoring all of it. Secondly, with the development of offshore wind, carbon capture and storage and marine renewable energy devices the marine environment is going to become increasingly pressured. And, quite obviously, what's interesting here is that these new developments are fixed, whereas most things in the marine environment float. 

Lastly, being fully imbued in the ways of interpretive policy analysis, I find the way the marine environment is understood and imagined within marine planning to be utterly fascinating. Countless historians and planning theorists have explained how the UK planning system that emerged in 1947 came from discourses of the "New Jerusalem" and also the continuing discourse of the imagined rural idyll, constructed by the CPRE, constantly under threat from rampant growth and modernisation. Yet among all this, there was an acceptance that development had to occur. One of the stupid things about the NPPF debate earlier this year in England was that since 1947 there has been a presumption in favour of development anyway. In the UK the state takes away your right to develop and then has to justify this. Anyhoo, it has struck me that the marine environment in essentially just imagined by marine biologists and if their concerns reach the general population then it's all about cetaceans. The only other people who know about the marine environment are fisherwomen and men. Marine biologists always want to create marine protected areas, so this puts the groups in conflict. This is what depressed me about the lack of a plan in the draft Scottish Marine Plan. We need to imagine what we want our seas to look like. As a sceptic, I think most imagined futures in plans are pretty shonky, but at least it's there. It's something to hold onto. I want to study the emergence of this new image of our marine environment and how it comes about.

Trouble is, my research so far has been about as far away from environmental planning as you can get...

And this, my readers, is what happens when you start writing a blog post without thinking about what you're going to write. So, on the job front, I think the big thing will be the ramping up of the teaching load in 2012. And I'm looking forward to blogging my reflective writing on the likes of edupunk which I've had to do for postgrad certificate in academic practice.

Finally, if any of my colleagues do read this, thank you so much for making me feel so welcome at the School of the Built Environment. I feel very lucky to be working with you all.


  1. well I'd be keen to see reserach into the benefits actually delivered by various 'regeneration' projects vs those claimed beforehand (and indeed afterwards). And I think Marine planning is only going to get more important, as,(as ever), people realise that the real world is moving faster than the plans 'officials' try to make for it.

  2. Thanks for this comment - only just caught up with it.

    On your first point, there was this:
    http://www.planningresource.co.uk/news/1142642/ (£)
    Interesting piece in planning magazine doing just that with the regeneration aims of the Olympics.