Working in the Public Interest
The Working in the Public Interest (WITPI) project is the first major investigation in the UK into the increasing involvement of private companies in carrying out professional spatial planning work for local government.
In the post war era, decisions about urban development were justified with the idea that state-employed planners served a unified public interest. As politically-neutral bureaucrats working in government, they stood above particular interests to serve a common good. Although this ‘public interest’ justification has long been challenged it remains important for professional practice.
Over the last 20 years, organisational reforms (intensified by austerity) have seen some planning functions of the state devolved to local communities, while the role of the market has been expanded with the private sector increasingly delivering planning services.
Nearly half of all UK Chartered Planners now work for private firms and the Government seeks to extend private sector involvement. Alongside this are wider debates on the role of the private sector in delivering public services. Despite this, there has been little research on the effects of privatisation on professionalism and how the public interest is understood in planning.
Read information about our research activities and links to key publications that have emerged from our study. Our activities and outputs include:
Archival work to trace how ‘the public interest’ has been understood in planning in the post-war era in the UK, in particular examining archives of planning professional organisations and the collections of local planning authorities and long-established professional practices.
Focus groups, co-produced with the Royal Town Planning Institute, to provide an up-to-date account of the new public and private organisational arrangements for planning in the UK.
Key output: Serving the public interest: The reorganisation of planning services in an era of reluctant outsourcing
A freedom of information request to all UK local planning authorities enquiring about outsourcing and use of private companies to support statutory planning work.
Key output: Summary of our approach to the FOI request and analysis of the results (PDF, 590KB)
Biographical interviews (and associated pen portraits) with planning professionals, investigating how these new organisational arrangements have changed their understanding and practice relating to professionalism and its role in securing the public interest.
Key output: WITPI planner pen portraits (PDF, 2.1MB)
In-depth ethnographic case studies of the contexts in which private sector professionals work to explore how ideas of ‘professionalism’ and the ‘public interest’ are defined and realised through the day-to-day practices and interactions of various professionals, politicians and citizens involved in local planning.
Key initial output: Question Your Teaspoons: tea-drinking, coping and commercialisation across three planning organisations
A synthesis of our research activity, reflecting critically on what planners must do differently in relation to working for the public interest.
Key output: Working in the public interest? What must planners do differently?