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The Place-making Summit will be a great forum to explore how urban regeneration will evolve now the high priest of localism, Greg Clark, is enthroned at Marsham Street.

The summit will take place on Wednesday 17 June in London, giving place-makers from across the UK the opportunity to delve into, and share solutions for, some of the biggest challenges currently encountered when creating better places. (For more information visit www.placemakingsummit.com)

Whether we like it or not, the values that will inspire ‘place-making’ for the next five years will have a strong Tory accent. So, we’ll see more devolution of power to city regions, support for local communities taking forward neighbourhood planning and nudges to prompt the third sector take over the delivery of public services. But the politicians place-makers  should see as their greatest blue allies must surely be Michael Heseltine and Greg Clark himself.

Those involved with urban regeneration must surely be thanking their lucky stars for Heseltine. The eminence gris from the 80s, uniquely de-toxified as a result of falling out with Margaret Thatcher, has left an indelible mark on Cameron’s urban policy. Before the coalition, he was helpful in steering the government away from Cities Limited, the Policy Exchange study that advocated shrinking northern cities, and letting development rip in the south east. His very readable report, No Stone Unturned, most of whose recommendations were taken up by government, has given ministers the confidence to step away from their usual centralising instincts to create a genuine opportunity, through ‘City Deals’ for power to be devolved to those city regions, like Manchester and Sheffield, that can demonstrate competence and aspiration.

Indeed, the ‘City Deals’ are a good expression of conservative values when it comes to regeneration; inspired by Hestletine’s ‘City Challenge’ of the 1980s, they provide an incentive for local government to show  vision and leadership in economic, civic and infrastructure development.  Moreover, the steady emergence of LEPs reflect a realisation that planning, both economic and spatial, need to be addressed at the regional level (with core cities often located at their heart) if the opportunity to grow strong centres of civic and economic activity are to be established outside London.

Another round of applause must also surely go to Greg Clark, whose brain-child, neighbourhood planning, is one of the most successful of the Government’s planning reforms. It has at a stroke given communities a place at the high table in the debate about how place-making should be conceived and delivered in the future. Much scorn was poored on the policy when it was first announced, but his belief that giving communities a say would make them them more willing to see development in their area has paid off. People are more aware of the seriousness of the housing crisis and we are, as a society, more willing to make the decisions necessary to overcome it. As neighbourhood planning beds down, it will be interesting to see if planning becomes part of our culture: a natural aspect of active citizenship.  Indirectly, it was also changed the planning profession, supporting an ambition set out in the Farrell review that planning should be creative and enabling, rather than being dominated by arbitration and development control.

Where do these values sit within the wider philosophy of Cameronian Toryism?  On re-election, the Prime Minister said he would govern as a ‘one nation’ Tory. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, given the ‘big society’ label used by the party in 2010. Both assert the responsibility that citizens have towards one another, without looking to the state for adjudication, support or even leadership.

What, then, is the dark side to the Tory agenda? There is a fear their wiser inclinations could be derailed political considerations. We saw this in Brandon Lewis’ dismissal of Urbed’s winning Wolfson Prize submission (any viable solution to the housing crisis must include considered and sensitive re-appraisal of the green belt). With the election now out of the way and Cameron committed to serving only one more term as PM, let’s hope these temptations relent. 

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