The Planning Exchange

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The Planning Exchange
Formation1972; 50 years ago (1972)
HeadquartersGlasgow
Location
  • Scotland
Director Professor
J.B.Cullingworth

The Planning Exchange was established in Glasgow in 1972 as an offshoot of the Centre for Environmental Studies (CES). Its aim was to provide a source of information on good practice and a forum for the debate of problems in the regions by bringing together the professions, leaders of civic organisations and community action groups, starting with planning problems but expanding to cover other interests and wider geographical areas. [1]

Beginnings

Initially the focus was on West Central Scotland, seeking closer relationships between research workers and policy makers, developers, property owners, voluntary bodies and the public. The first Director Professor J.B.Cullingworth, Director of the Centre for Urban and Regional Studies at the University of Birmingham, took up his post on 1 October 1972. With Mr W.L. Taylor, ex Labour Leader of Glasgow Corporation as interim Chairman the official opening took place in March 1973 in rented premises at 186 Bath Street, Glasgow.

A Glasgow Herald editorial stated “It is to be hoped that this will not become merely another talking shop … [but] some form of central registry for new ideas” [2] The Scotsman newspaper editorial [3] took the view that the increasing scope and complexity of planning required practitioners to share expertise, learn from research and understand the needs of those for whom they plan.

Funding

Finance was a problem. In his first progress report in October 1972 Professor Cullingworth reported that the major sources of funding favoured research rather than dissemination, discussion, application and learning. In July 1973, however, the Ford Foundation of America awarded a grant of $100,000 to fund this kind work. In May 1975 Cullingworth moved on and Tony Burton was appointed Executive Director. A major step in solving the finance problem was the agreement by the Scottish Development Department to match pound for pound grants from Scottish local authorities, an important factor in persuading local authorities to become members of the Exchange [4].

The information service

A library of official publications, journals, books and semi-published, or grey literature was established and by December 1974 two qualified librarians had catalogued, classified and abstracted some 6,000 documents using a system devised by Brenda White of the Planning Research Unit at Edinburgh University following her research into information needs in Town and Country Planning. [5] [6] [7]

Links were established with government departments, local authorities, research bodies and professional organisations who were encouraged to see the Exchange as playing an important role in disseminating their research. Current awareness or Selective dissemination of information on planning and housing was provided by the weekly Information Bulletin while the growing interest in economic development was covered in the monthly Economic Development Digest.

The current awareness and enquiry services were backed up with a document supply service to provide library material as photocopies or loans.

PLANEX online database

The library used card based indexes but also experimented with a punched card, or optical coincidence, system. In 1984 a mini computer (DEC PDP 11/23 Plus) was acquired with bespoke software to create a searchable database of the abstracts and print the weekly Information Bulletin.

From the start it was envisaged that remote, dial-up access would be provided to the database (PLANEX). At that time access to databases of abstracts was provided by a few online hosts, such as Dialog, which had spun out of the Lockheed Aircraft Corporation. These hosts were like supermarkets offering databases on a range of subjects. In 1986 A deal was done with Pergamon Press to host PLANEX on Pergamon Infoline.

Planning law and practice

Scottish Planning Appeal Decisions - SPADS

From early days the Information Service published quarterly summaries of planning appeal decisions, backed up with an on-demand photocopy service to supply copies of Reporter’s Reports.

Scottish Planning Law and Practice and Scottish Planning and Environmental Law and SPEL

Following discussion with a number individuals in law departments at Scottish universities [8], July 1980 saw the launch of Scottish Planning Law and Practice as a thrice yearly supplement to Journal of the Law Society of Scotland and on stand-alone subscription. SPLP covered new and impending legislation, regulations, circulars and government advice as well as court cases and selected planning appeal decisions.

In the late 1980s the scope was widened to include environmental legislation the name changed to Scottish Planning and Environmental Law. The new journal was a stand-alone publication and no longer distributed as supplement to the Law Society Journal. It continues to be published as an e-journal[9].

There has been an annual SPLP/SPEL conference since the 1980s attended by government officials, academics and practitioners in the public and private sectors.

Ledis and udis

Ledis (Local Economic Development Initiatives), was a loose-leaf monthly publication launched in 1981 documenting initiatives to combat local unemployment, shortage of jobs and lack of enterprise. Using a network of contributors across the UK, fact sheets (two sides of A4) were published each month providing an intermediate level of information between superficial press articles and detailed academic evaluation.

The idea came from a discussion between the Planning Exchange and URBED (Urban and Economic Development Trust) and was funded by the Gatsby Charitable Foundation.

Both the EEC and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) expressed interest in Ledis as part of international systems for the exchange of information on local employment initiatives. Along with two other organisations the Exchange set up and managed Brussels based Elise - European Local Initiatives Service, an EC-funded centre for disseminating information on local employment initiatives.

Further grants in 1983 and 1985 from the Gatsby Foundation enabled the development of LEDIS and an enquiry service – something quite new at that time.

Udis (Urban Development Initiative Service) was organised on similar lines to LEDIS but focussed on support available to local authorities and other bodies to carry out improvements to towns and cities.

The new towns record

To mark the 50th anniversary of the passing of the New Towns Act 1946, the New Towns Commission consulted the Planning Exchange which recommended an electronic library be established to record and make available the documents, reports and plans connected with the New Towns Programme.

Work commenced in 1999 to scan documents using optical character recognition to create searchable text. Interviews, including some with local residents, were added along with thousands of images. The first edition was produced on CD and later on DVD [10] [11]

Seminars, conferences and short courses

In the 1970s and 1980s there was no consistent programme of continuous professional development – CPD – in any of the relevant professions, so the Exchange pioneered courses on such matters as structure planning, development control, housing management, tenant participation, local employment initiatives.

Extension to england

In 1986 the Gatsby Foundation awarded a grant to expand operations into England and Wales and in 1988 funded the opening of an English office in Manchester. Through the Manchester office the Exchange ran a number of projects including:

  • assisting Training and Enterprise Councils support small engineering firms to employ best practice management
  • the cost-effectiveness of information relating to the Action for Cities initiative in Greater Manchester
  • Information as a Development Tool in the Inner City
  • evaluating regeneration initiatives such as City Challenge Partnerships set up by the UK Government in response to city riots in England during the 1980s.

In 1996 the Manchester office closed, having served its purpose of expanding local authority membership in England and Wales

Andrew Lean, formerly a senior civil servant at the Department of the Environment stated in 2020 that the Exchange “promoted joined up working long before it became fashionable and made a tremendous contribution to urban regeneration" [12].

Acquisition by idox

In 2000, although the Exchange had managed to finance itself for the previous two years without grant funding, it had no working capital or assets with which to invest in development. Specifically there was an urgent need to make the information service into a fully-fledged internet-based service.

In 2000 Edward Cunninghame, ex Director of Industry and Enterprise succeeded Bruce Millan as Chairman and identified the necessity to enhance the commercial performance and returns of the one function that had the potential to keep the Exchange solvent, namely the Information Service.

In May 2002 the assets of the Planning Exchange were sold to Idox plc. All 28 staff were offered identical employment terms with Idox and The Planning Exchange charity changed its name to the Planning Exchange Foundation. Having no staff or assets other than the proceeds of the sale, the Foundation decided to use these funds to award research grants.

The Information Service continues as Idox Knowledge Exchange

References

  1. Donnison, D. Pressure Group for the Facts IN New Society, 11 Dec 1969
  2. Glasgow Herald, 6 April 1972
  3. The Scotsman 6 April 1972
  4. Burton, T.The Planning Exchange IN Scottish Journal of Adult Education” Vol 2, No. 4, Spring 1977 pp.25-32
  5. Surveyor magazine on 13 September 1974
  6. Planners and Information: A Report of an Investigation Into Information Provision in Town and Country Planning: a Research Project Supported by a Grant from the Office for Scientific and Technical Information https://books.google.co.uk/books/about/Planners_and_Information.html?id=qt7lwwEACAAJ&redir_esc=y
  7. White, Brenda Planners and Information, Library Association, Research Publication No 3, 1970
  8. The individuals taking part were Chris Himsworth, Associate Dean of the Faculty of Law at Edinburgh University; Hamish Henderson, Department of Scots Law, University of Edinburgh; Louise Houston, Faculty of Law, University of Dundee; R.J Rowan-Robinson, Lecturer in Public Law, University of Aberdeen and Martin McEwan, Department of Town and Country Planning Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh
  9. Scottish Planning and Environmental Law https://www.theknowledgeexchange.co.uk/products/scottish-planning-environmental-law/
  10. Burton, Anthony and Hartley, Joyce (eds), "The New Towns Record CD-Rom" (CD Review). Town Planning Review, 69(3), pp. 347
  11. Clapson, Mark. Review of The New Towns Record, 1946-1996: 50 Years of UK New Town Development. H-Urban, H-Net Reviews. September, 1998. URL: http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=14871
  12. Private email from Andrew Lean to Tony Burton

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