Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Ferguslie is NOT the most deprived neighbourhood in Scotland

Ferguslie Park is. And even that statement is not right. No news outlet I’ve seen so far could be bothered to go to Ferguslie Park and speak to some of the amazing projects doing really good work in the neighbourhood or even take a photo of the nice homes provided by Ferguslie Park Housing Association and the new primary school.  The Daily Record bothered to use a Google Street View image. STV and the BBC couldn’t even be bothered doing that much, just using library images. The BBC one is particularly crass. No homes in Ferguslie Park look like this, and the woman in the foreground is just horribly stigmatising - the sort of "The Scheme" bullshit that drives the debate on this issue. 

This whole story depresses me because this is the second time “Ferguslie Park” has been the “most deprived” neighbourhood in Scotland. The last time was 2006. It’s not the entire neighbourhood. As Alasdair Rae’s fantastic Google Mapping of the SIMD 2012 shows, it’s one datazone. The ranking of this datazone in the SIMD has gone from 1 in 2006, to 2 in 2009, and now back to 1. Switch on the satellite view on the Google map and have a look at the stats behind the ranking you’ll see part of the reason why - the datazone is depopulated. It’s part of a continuing story of disinvestment, low demand and poor housing management decisions that have characterised Ferguslie Park since it was built. As the Community Development Project in the neighbourhood in the 1970s concluded, this slum clearance housing was “cuts housing neglected before it was built”.

One thing I have to make clear, I think SIMD is a fantastic tool and I welcome the Scottish Government’s continued investment in it. What angers me is this sort of reporting of “Ferguslie” being the most deprived and Craiglockhart the least deprived. It’s just inaccurate. For a start, it’s Ferguslie PARK (it was the park land of the Coats’ mansion which backed onto their Ferguslie Mill). It’s not the entire neighbourhood, it’s one datazone. If you want to give it a name, call it Candren. The index is relative, so as one community activist put it to me (I paraphrase here): “we only came out bottom because they knocked down places in Glasgow worse than us”. And Craiglockhart is not the least deprived. It’s a deprivation index, not an affluence index, so once you get up to the top of the index it’s essentially meaningless (also, see Alasdair Rae's fantastic "what does it all mean" page).

What really angers me is that this sort of reporting feeds into the stigma which helps keep Ferguslie Park a deprived neighbourhood; which isolates its residents and lowers their life chances. As I pointed out in this paper(£*) the stigma towards Ferguslie Park is so great that it is likely that any regeneration programme will be termed unsuccessful. The “feckless feegies” as the other residents of Paisley call them, don’t “deserve” the community centre, new housing and other facilities they have – the real successes of the regeneration programme. If the neighbourhood is misnamed the “most deprived” in Scotland then this is similarly just typical of those “feckless feegies”.

As far as I’m concerned we need to make Craiglockhart the problem neighbourhood. Why does this neighbourhood of horrendous new build flats and bungalows have so few unemployed people – that’s really weird. Why do they have such high educational qualifications – surely some of them have messed around at school at some point in their lives? Why is there so little social housing? Why are there only three children of school age? (and why aren’t those stats anonymised?) Why are there so many young men? Frankly, I think they need to knock down Craiglockhart and start again. Yuppies don’t deserve such nice housing.

There's a very funny book from many moons ago called Politically Correct Bedtime Stories. The politically correct version of Snow White is "Snow White and the Seven Towering Giants" not because the dwarves were, but because they had "towering" personalities. Much as this is satire, it is this change in language that we need to see if we are going to tackle neighbourhood deprivation in a constructive way. If you're looking for bonding social capital, then I can assure you, Ferguslie Park has bucket loads of that compared to Craiglockhart.

* as ever, my paper is behind an academic paywall. I won't get into a debate on open access. If you want a copy of my paper please contact me by Twitter or email and I'll happily send you a copy. In the New Year the University online depository goes live and you'll be able to get a green open access version. 

Monday, 10 December 2012

Where’s the community gone?

Back in 1999 and devolution to the Scottish Parliament and government, one of the most impressive range of powers that wasn’t reserved to Westminster was land-use planning. It took them a while to use these powers fully. The problems over the Lingerbay super quarry application seemed to make the first parliaments very cautious so in the end they spent years consulting over the reforms introduced in 2006.

One of the big issues that came up in the consultation was Third Party Rights to Appeal – that is the right for the community, or another body who are not the developers applying for planning permission, to appeal a planning decision. The Lib Dems in coalition at the time were quite keen on the idea and there was a lot of murmuring about it, so there was a specific consultation on TPRA. In the end it was rejected and Modernising the Planning System which became the 2006 Act reached this compromise – a refreshed plan-led system would engage communities much more in the plan development cycle, which would include neighbour notification of major developments included in the plan. Developers would also have a duty to engage local communities on major developments. By the time I was doing my MSc in Urban and Regional Planning this was the planning policy zeitgeist – not only would communities feel listened to, but the streamlined system would ensure good developments were brought forward speedily. The focus was the community.

In 2007, when the SNP won their first election victory to the Scottish Parliament, there was some concern that their focus on “sustainable economicgrowth” would mean a complete revision of the 2006 Act for a neo-liberal development free-for-all. Luckily, John Swinney was won over to the merits of the reformed system and implementation ploughed ahead. A week ago I was at a two day session with a group of planners at the Scottish Government to learn how things had gone. It was a very good session and, any planners reading this, if you get the chance to attend I would recommend it, however…

Two things struck me. Firstly, and I said this at the time, the community has vanished from Scottish planning. The “line to take” among Scottish Government planners now is that “in these difficult economic times” we must deliver “sustainable economic growth”. To be fair, this focus on delivery economic development through planning (rather than, say, enhancing our natural environment, or engaging communities) in Scotland is a lot more pro-planning than it is in Westminster (HT @Bristol21). The planning system is still seen as a good and effective way to deliver development. However, I’m pretty sure that six years ago the focus would have very much been on engaging the community in the development process, whereas now it is very much planners delivering a “good” plan on time and then helping to deliver development.

This leads me onto the other thing I always find when I go to events with practising planners. As they work within the planning system they are utterly obsessed by it. There’s definitely an actor-network theory study to be done in how the “planning process” is reified by planners into the enabler or thwarter of all development. I think this is why practitioners and academics often talk past each other in land-use planning. While I find the fascination with process interesting in an abstract sense, the actual working of the minutiae of planning law in practice bores me to tears. I’m interested in the abstract theories that lie behind the whole planning system – the sort of stuff that answers the questions “why do we plan”. Reflecting on this on the hoof as I write, I suppose one need for us as planning academics is to highlight how this theory explains why planning processes are the way they are – you’re essentially trying to make a decision (in most cases) weighing up all sorts of difficult ontological and epistemological questions that cannot be answered with a “good” plan or a model policy.

But the process does matter. Previously I’ve blogged about the disaster of Leith Docks and why I chose not to attend a consultation event for a decision that has seemingly been made. A recent contract call from Scottish Enterprise furthers my cynicism. The future use of Leith Docks was, as I understood it, an issue to be discussed in the Main Issues Report of the next City of Edinburgh Local Plan. It seems that the issue has already been decided for us by Scottish Enterprise.

The state of land ownership in Leith Docks, again recently in the news because part of it is not owned by a company based in the tax-haven of the British Virgin Islands, and the mess of the development process really highlights how the process does matter if we want to deliver good development. However, the process does not need tinkering to get away from quirks of law that aren’t working right, it needs much more dramatic reform to place the public interest at the heart of planning. And these reforms, including to land law as well as planning, need to prioritise development where it needs to and should happen, for example in deprived neighbourhoods. But neither is the prioritising of the community’s views over all others a proper aim for the planning system – that way we run the risk of empowering the powerful and producing fruitless debate about development – as some recent development processes in Edinburgh are showing.

With these vague ramblings in mind, I’d advise you to go and have a look at the draft manifesto (PDF) of the Planners Network UK  – a really good statement of positive planning principles at all spatial scales.