Meet the Book Editor: Taking English Planning Law Scholarship Seriously

Maria Lee, University College London and Carolyn Abbot, Manchester University

Maria Lee and Carolyn Abbot’s new edited collection, Taking English Planning Law Scholarship Seriously, was published open access by UCL Press in October 2022. 

What is the book about? 

Our edited collection brings together a wonderful group of legal scholars to reflect on planning law. Planning law is a big part of responding to some of our most pressing social challenges, and raises some of the most interesting questions in legal scholarship. And yet, we think it has been strangely under-explored in academic legal scholarship over the past couple of decades. 

The book begins by outlining English planning law. We focus on the local planning system, where plans are developed and planning applications are decided. The chapter looks in particular at four key issues: the identity of the ubiquitous, but often taken for granted, ‘local planning authority’; decision-making on applications for planning permission; the making and role of development plans; and the relationship between policy and law. 

The remaining chapters range across four themes in planning. First, ‘Place shaping, place framing’, shines a light on the scope and variety of planning as a scholarly activity. The chapters in this part reveal multiple ways in which planning law can contribute to shaping and framing our understanding of place. Part two is on ‘Participation’. Many of the chapters in the book address participation, and much of the English legal literature on participation revolves in some way around planning. Here, the authors explicitly focus on participation and planning law.  The following Part three explores ‘Time and scale’ in planning law. Planning is inherently future-oriented, imagining the playing out of time and space for a place; it also relies on the past to control the future. And planning is inherently scalar, self-consciously utilising and attempting to organise different scales of governance. Finally, Part four, on ‘Planning at the intersections’ explores the ways in which planning law works within and across other legal sub-disciplines, specifically contract, administrative law and property law. 

Why did we edit it? 

This volume was inspired by our sense that the academic community has more to offer planning law – and that planning law has more to offer legal scholarship. Although many legal scholars have done important work on planning, it can be really difficult to find a way into the most academically interesting questions, which this volume begins to open up. Yes, planning law is vast, densely detailed and constantly changing, and this can be off-putting. But planning law really isn’t dreary! It is a necessary part of any response to the most significant challenges of our time, from the climate and environmental crises to social and economic inequalities. It is embedded in, as well as partially constituting, our democratic systems: the challenges of democratic decision-making in a complex society cannot be avoided when thinking about planning. Planning law in particular raises some of the most fundamental questions faced by legal scholars, from the legitimacy of authority to the relationship between public and private rights and interests. 

How did we go about producing this collection?

The contributors to this volume came together around the time of England’s third lockdown, January 2021. Perhaps presumptuously, we wondered as editors whether others might be feeling, like us, a little isolated and distracted – so we all got together for four zoom meetings, where we shared our earliest ideas and discussed some cross-cutting themes in planning law. We learned a great deal, and began our chapters even before we were quite putting pen to paper. Just as important, we began to get to know each other, and came to our long-planned in-person workshop at UCL in September 2021 ready to trust and collaborate. 

Given the relatively limited community of planning law scholarship at the moment, we never set out as editors to impose a single vision on this volume. Instead, we gave our authors an almost free hand in choosing the issues they wanted to focus on. The loose organisation around the four parts above reflect simply a combination of our own interests and the interests of our contributors – and so we believe also some of the key concerns of the academy in this area.

As a bonus to the privilege of publishing open access with UCL Press, their process was one of the most straightforward we have ever experienced. This capped an enormously enjoyable and rewarding editorial experience, and we are extraordinarily grateful for the commitment and collaboration of our talented authors. They cover a range of issues from diverse perspectives, take diverse approaches and rely on excitingly diverse literatures. We hope that this edited collection is a starting point, and the undoubted gaps will turn out to be opportunities.

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