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Economics and Land Use Planning: Insights from Britain

October 2016

Ryerson University's Centre for Urban Research and Land Development (CUR) held a seminar on October 28, 2016 which focussed on the important role economics should be playing in helping achieve societal land-use planning objectives while minimizing economic and social costs. The keynote speaker, Professor Paul Cheshire at the London School of Economics, has engaged in research on the economic effects of land-use planning since the early 1980s.

In 2014, Paul along with fellow professors, Max Nathan and Henry Overman, authored a bold and often controversial book Urban Economics and Urban Policy: Challenging Conventional Policy Wisdom which is highly critical of the British land use planning system since ‘containment’ policies were imposed with the enactment of the Town and Country Act in 1947 and tightened in the 1950s as Greenbelt boundaries were established. While the authors identify and assiduously research the economic and social costs inherent in British land use planning, they also evaluate options to the current system and propose (what they call) radical reforms to it. These reforms involve less state directive and more reliance on a combination of incentives and greater use of price signals.

The British experience is relevant to planning in the Greater Golden Horseshoe (GGH) given that Ontario’s planning system drew inspiration from what was called town planning in Britain. Also, the fact that Britain’s ‘containment’ policies, enacted some 50 years before Ontario’s Green Belt and the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe, provide a laboratory for determining economic and social impacts and costs in Ontario (allowing of course for some significant differences in the systems), and initiatives to counter them.

In the time leading up to the seminar, CUR released 5 blog entries which showcased some of the insights and recommendations from Cheshire and his two co-authors. Please click the links below to read the entries.

Blog #1: Collapse predicted if the current British land use planning system continues without radical reform  

Blog #2: Urban policy, including land use policy, is often ineffective because of a failure to utilize economic analyses and insights

Blog #3: The alchemy by which land use regulation turns housing in Greater London into gold

Blog #4: Why costs as well as benefits must be considered when formulating or evaluating land use planning policy  

Blog #5: 'Radical reforms' to the British land use planning system proposed by Cheshire, Nathan and Overman