Category Archives: Opinion

The Growth of the NUMBY

by Roger Wall

Gasland movie cover and trailor linkDoes the Earth move for You? If you live in the North West of England, it already has on a couple of occasions and may well do so more often in the future.  After a one-year moratorium on exploratory fracking, the Government has decided that the scientific evidence does not link the practice of forcing liquids into the ground at high pressures to crack rocks with the occurrence of earthquakes.  Moreover, within weeks of this ground-breaking decision (did you see what I did there?), it has decided to offer huge tax incentives to companies wishing to exploit the supposedly vast reserves of shale gas beneath our feet (or at least under the feet of those who live in the North West).  So after a few wobbles, energy policy appears to have shaken off its reservations, papered over any cracks in the science and embraced shale gas as the next cheap energy alternative.

Continue reading The Growth of the NUMBY


Can planning’s past tell us about planning’s future?

by Peter J Larkham

Planning has the potential to become a rallying-cry around which people come together to bring diverse and exciting ideas about what their future could be like, and then helps people realise these collective dreams.  But I worry that we have lost the knack of constructively and positively engaging the public in the complex issues of planning.  Perhaps we can look to the past to re-learn a lost art of inspiring enthusiasm and hope through planning.

Routledge is publishing a new series of booksWhen We Build Again book title, reprinting classic texts in town planning with newly-commissioned critical introductions.  My contribution – published on 17 July – focuses on two books about Birmingham: principally the Bournville Village Trust’s When we build again (1941), with Paul Cadbury’s Birmingham – fifty years on (1952).  But why do we revisit these aged texts?  What can we learn from planning history?

It’s commonplace to suggest that we should learn lessons from the past.  On the other hand, perhaps we just make the same mistakes over and over again!  Look at the current furore over the new syllabus for history in secondary schools.  In terms of planning history specifically, the eminent planning historian Tony Sutcliffe said long ago that “does it not reflect [society’s] rejection of a once-proud elite of technocrats, who take refuge in the past from an uncertain present and a gloomy future?” (Sutcliffe, 1981, p. 65).  Sutcliffe’s place for planning history and historians was as “unsettling persons”, evaluating and questioning the past, soberly assessing its “contribution to the long-term development of planning methodology” (Sutcliffe, 1981, p. 67).  Planning history should replace myth in situating ideas within a broad and long-term historical perspective. Continue reading Can planning’s past tell us about planning’s future?


Learning Technologies in Higher Education – Friend or Foe?

by Ian McDonald

Until relatively recentTeaser text on equityly, the main equipment in the average lecture theatre and seminar room was a lectern and/or a blackboard (Race 2007, p.109). Now, however, we are experiencing an exposition of new technologies to aid learning and teaching. Firstly videos and overhead projectors were introduced followed by the now omnipresent PowerPoint presentations and use of YouTube clips. Many Universities are even employing specialist staff to design bespoke learning technologies specifically for their own institution, and BCU is no exception here.

Despite my relative youth I struggle with new technology and tend to ‘catch up’ with rather than ‘champion’ new technologies. This has been the case with several technologies which I now use regularly privately, but was slow to initially embrace, such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, and at work, such as SharePoint. This undoubtedly comes from my suspicion of ‘change’ and my fairly conservative (small ‘c’) educational background. Continue reading Learning Technologies in Higher Education – Friend or Foe?


Putting the P back into Planning

by Alister Scott

This blog uses evidence from recent research work on the urban rural fringe[1] to re-discover a different way forward for English planning. The rediscovery element is important here as we all too often seek the new when we have solutions buried in our vaults from past interventions

Planning Regs Sandcastle CartoonMuch of the present debate about the delivery of economic growth and protection of the countryside is being fought out in the battlefield of the urban-rural fringe. Here at the meeting of town and country where urban and rural land uses, interests and values converge in the daily experience of development proposals, I see a dualism between proponents of urban growth and countryside protectors. We urgently need to move beyond this sterile and media-fuelled debate by a re-examination of what planning is about and what it means on the ground. In the murky political football that now characterises planning policy and decision-making, the soul of planning has become lost. Continue reading Putting the P back into Planning


Ethics, Universities and Research

by Peter Larkham

We have just ended the second successful BCU Ethics Conference, this time focusing on research ethics including four guest speakers on concepts of research ethics, researching children, and fraud in research. The event was lively and informative. The presentations will be available to BCU staff and students on the iCity research community tab (https://icity.bcu.ac.uk/Research-Community).

These are not trivial issues. Ethics should permeate all of the activities of a modern university, not just its externally-facing research. But research, at all levels from undergraduate projects to PhDs and major externally-funded projects, needs to be carefully designed to be ethically robust. Such research protects those involved in the research, whether they might be participants, the researchers themselves and even the reputation of the institution and funding bodies. This is most significant where these might be vulnerable people, such as young people and others for whom the concept of “informed consent” is problematic; and, of course, young researchers are also vulnerable to undue pressures.

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Universities, including our own, have woken up to at least some of these issues in recent years, and have some policies and procedures in place. But we need to ensure that these are both appropriate and suitably followed. Ethics review should not be simply a “tick box” one-off exercise. Research evolves over time, and some research takes years: we might need a continued engagement with ethics concepts and procedures. Ethics awareness needs to be embedded more deeply in staff activities from induction onwards; and likewise in our teaching, at all levels. Our business and administrative practices, and overall focus and mission statement, should explicitly refer to ethics. We should aspire to be known as an ethically-robust university. In that way we could attract research partners, funding, professional and business collaborators, and better students.

I hope that we’ll have another conference, perhaps sooner than this time next year. Perhaps the focus should be on how we embed ethics in our teaching and learning activities. That might attract those who decided not to come today, saying that they weren’t researchers, so research ethics were irrelevant to them!

Peter J Larkham is Professor of Planning in the Birmingham School of the Built Environment, and has led the concluding sessions of both BCU Ethics conferences. His most-cited publication is on the treatment of plagiarism (http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/routledg/cjfh/2002/00000026/00000004/art00005), though he doesn’t think that it’s his best paper!


Why isn’t our research having a greater impact on UK society?

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by Mark Reed

Throughout history, civilisations have risen and fallen on their ability to generate new knowledge and innovate in the face of major challenges. In the UK, many of the fastest-growing sectors of our economy are knowledge-based. This is made very clear at the Birmingham Made Me Design Expo 2013 at Millennium Point this month, which argues that design and innovation are drivers of wealth creation. This thirst for knowledge goes right to the heart of Government, with policy-makers increasingly striving to make “evidence-based” decisions on controversial issues like the designation of Marine Protected Areas and the creation of new markets for peatland carbon – issues that my colleagues and I at Birmingham School of the Built Environment are researching.

I think that we, as researchers, often take for granted that we have privileged access to the latest knowledge, forgetting that this is often locked behind publisher pay-walls. We have the skills to generate answers to some of the biggest questions facing society, and yet as a research community in the UK, only a small proportion of our work actually provides answers to these big questions. So why isn’t more UK research having a greater impact on society?

Continue reading Why isn’t our research having a greater impact on UK society?