Children ‘notable by their absence in planning policy’ – report

Children’s rights are being widely overlooked when it comes to planning policies in the UK, according to a new report.

Child Friendly Planning in the UK says it is the express right of children to be included in the decision-making process, and it calls for under-18s to be recognised as a distinct group for the purposes of planning.

The report, published by the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI), is the work of lead researchers Jenny Wood, a town planner who has written extensively about how to involve children in planning policy, architect Dinah Bornat and Professor Aude Bicquelet-Lock, deputy-head of policy and research at the RTPI.

‘Children’s human rights across planning policies’

Its aim was to review national planning policies across the whole of the UK and their relationship to children’s legislation and policy; find examples of typical policies and good practices; and assess opportunities for improving understanding and implementation of children’s human rights across planning policies.

The past 50 years, says the report, has seen a ‘drastic reduction’ in the use of outdoor spaces by children, due to national policy being increasingly focused on economics rather than people. It adds that little consideration is being given to the fact outdoor play is fundamental to children’s wellbeing and long-term development, as well as improving community cohesion, in UK planning policies.

Prof Bicquelet-Lock said: “If we are honest and serious about building inclusive and diverse communities, we have to take into account children’s needs and rights. Planning systems across the UK have obligations to meet these needs through both UK government commitments to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNRC), as well as equalities and child-specific legislation.”

‘A more rights-based approach is needed’

This report examines the extent to which UK planning meets three internationally developed and recognised rights enshrined in the UNCRC (1989):

  • Article 12 – a right to be heard and taken seriously in all matters affecting them
  • Article 15 – a right to gather and use public space, providing no laws are broken
  • Article 31 – a right to play, rest, leisure and access cultural life appropriate to their age.

But despite the UNRC being ratified in the UK in 1991, it was never fully integrated directly into domestic law, and instead the UK committed to meet the terms of the convention through legislative and policy measures. The report calls for a more rights-based approach to future planning policies, a key part of which is putting children at the heart of the process.

“The stark truth is that children are most visible across UK planning policies through their absence,” added Prof Bicquelet-Lock. In most cases social issues relevant to planning are relegated to guidance rather than to key national planning policies and frameworks.”

‘Overall bleak picture’

The RTPI points to what it calls ‘a growing body of evidence’ showing that, although parks, playgrounds and skateparks have arisen over time, ‘these adult creations do not necessarily chime with the self-reported spatial needs and understandings of children’.

Despite an overall ‘bleak picture’, Prof Bicquelet-Lock said there were still some ‘notable and commendable practices’ at national, regional and local level, with regard to an orientation towards children in planning.

“Pockets of rights-focused policy are beginning to emerge in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland but there is a dearth at national level in England,” she said. “A number of local authorities are also taking it upon themselves to consider child-friendly planning in the absence of strategic impetus from the UK or its devolved governments.”

The full report is available online.

Author: Simon Weedy

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