Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Grotton Revisited

Among the gifts which Father Christmas brought down my chimney was a copy of “Grotton Revisited” by Steve Ankers, David Kaiserman and Chris Shepley (published by Routledge in association with the RTPI - ISBN 978-0-415-54647-8 @ £19.99). If I had ordered it myself, I could have got £2.50 off as an RTPI member, but no doubt the distressed authors could do with the royalties.

I missed getting a copy of the original “Grotton Papers” back in 1979. I had only just begun to specialise in planning law at that time, and it might have been educational. On the other hand, it could have put me off the idea altogether!

My reaction to the new volume is very much the same as that of other reviewers – it is both very funny, and yet rather depressing, because the authors’ satirical barbs are so well aimed, and the nonsense of the planning system is so well observed.

I particularly liked one of the stories found in the Souvenir Conference Edition of the Grotton Advertiser (on page 132) entitled ‘Boy Tory’s Planning Story’. This piece relates how a 13-year old schoolboy from Grotton came to write the Conservative Party’s planning policies. They had originated as a school project, but the boy’s headmaster had been so impressed with this essay, that he had forwarded it to Conservative Central Office, where it was eagerly adopted as party policy and published as the party’s pre-election Green Paper (“Open Source Planning”). That just about sums up the intellectual weight of the Tory proposals. But what has wiped the smile off my face is that the coalition government is actually attempting to put these half-baked ideas into practice!

Throughout the book I felt stabs of recognition. In fact, the satire could have been even more savage without in any way being exaggerated. For example, another passage which is wickedly accurate is a civil servant’s summary of the process involved in producing a Local Development Scheme (see page 41).

Anyone who has any involvement or interest in town and country planning should get hold of a copy of this book. But I suggest you open it only on days when you are feeling reasonably optimistic and upbeat – if you dip into it after a bad day at the office, it may persuade you that it’s time to give up and go and find something less stressful and frustrating to do between the hours of 9 and 5 (not to mention all the other hours that planning professionals have to work nowadays in an effort to keep on top of the ever more demanding workload).

Happy New Year!


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