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Communicative and Collaborative Planning Theory

Communicative and Collaborative Planning Theory


The theories of planning deals with the discussion of the different ideas and concepts that have an important link to planning practice and its relationship with society, land use and government. The context of the various planning theories is important for planners to understand, as it contributes to the positive knowledge that planners can use and apply in the real world. The aim of this essay is to examine the theory of communicative and collaborative planning, the benefits it brings with the help of Patsy Healey’s (2006) work on ‘Collaborative Planning: Shaping Places in Fragmented Societies’ and give an example of how the theory influence and used today in the planning system. Communicative and collaborative planning has also been widely criticised since the early 1990s as shown by the book ‘Planning Futures: New directions for planning theory’ (Allmendinger & Tewdwr Jones, 2002).

Communicative and Collaborative Planning Theory

In the last decade, the theory of communicative and collaborative planning has become one of the most influential critics of contemporary planning (Healey, Madanipour & Hull, 2000). It envisages a political arena in which all the people involved make decisions on shared issues. It is an inclusive dialogue, influenced by the recognition of the complexities of planning problems and the need to involve multiple stakeholders in decision-making. In view of humanity’s economic and social problems, collective action among actors at multiple levels in society, such as individuals, organisations and governments, is seen as potential solution to achieve a sustainable future.

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Collaborative planning is closely associated with the work of Patsy Healey (2006). The idea of communicative and collaborative theoretical development in planning has been influenced by three main key writers (Allmendinger, 2009). First and foremost, Jurgen Habermas’(1984) work on the ‘Theory Of Communicative Action’ provides a wealth of ideas on how to reconstitute the public sphere through open public debate. The theory of communicative action has a transformative impact on the design of the planning process in the planning field. Participants engage in open debate through which they explore each other’s concerns and the context of these concerns. Habermas (1991) frame four criteria for communicative rationality called ‘ideal speech’ under collaborative planning which are Sincerity, Legitimacy, Truthfulness and comprehensibility. Second is the work of Michel Foucault and among Foucauldian, who looked at language and meaning and its potentially dominatory nature in hiding existing power relations and finally is the work of Anthony Giddens who examines ways in which we interrelate through webs of social relations as well as ways in which we can co-exist in society (Allmendinger, 2009).

Case Study: County Durham Plan

The County Durham Plan sets out a range of development proposals as well as planning policies that will cover possible sites for housing, businesses and infrastructure such as schools, healthcare provision and community facilities up to the year 2035 (DCC, 2017).

The County Durham Plan Proposals (DCC, 2017):

●        Support the continued economic growth of the area and provide more and better jobs for residents where over 305 hectares of new land developed for business and industry.

●        Provide 6272 new houses across the Durham to meet the Government estimate of 25,992 by 2035 in response to the housing crisis.

●        Provide policies to protect of over 250,000 hectares of County Durham’s natural environment.

●        Improve and provide new infrastructure which includes new Horden Railway Station, relief roads to the north and west of Durham city and improve and provide new schools and healthcare provisions.

Local planning authorities produced a ‘Statement of Community Involvement’ document as part of section 18 of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act (2004). The document explains and outlines how the authority will propose on engaging with the local communities and stakeholders in the making of the Local Plan. This helps local communities to prepare them for the initial consultation giving them the best opportunities to participate in the development of the plan. The document also state the importance of using Neighbourhood Plan which then can be put as a collab with the Local Plan.

Neighbourhood Planning:

Neighbourhood Planning is an example of how communicative and collaborative planning is used in the UK planning system. In the Localism Act (2011), it states that local communities are given the opportunity and power to present their perspective to develop a neighbourhood development plan in their local area. Local communities can have a say on their shared vision for the neighbourhood, identifying where new homes, shops, offices and other development would be build and how it should look like with valid reason. However, the law requires that it must follow the national planning policy and in general conformity with strategic policies set by the local plan of the area. Before the Neighbourhood Plan can be put to force, the plan needs to be publicse for at least six weeks of consultation which involves inviting comments from the planning authority, people who live, work, carry out businesses and other stakeholders in the relevant area. It is then voted by everyone living in the coverage area of the Neighbourhood Plan during the referendum where the plan can be put to force if the majority (more than 50% of the vote) is in favour of the plan.

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If we are not actively concerned with the potential impacts of a new project in our neighbourhood, it can lead to serious damage and future conflicts in the neighbourhood. One way of moving beyond interest group conflicts are being explored drawing on principles of conflict mediation and consensus building in collaborative discussion which people can come to learn about the potential impacts and possible ways of valuing and addressing them (2006, Healey). The main advantage of this is that communities are involved right from the very beginning and throughout the process, helping to shape the vision and inform future decisions of their communities. Another benefit of engaging in collaborative planning is the ability to gain extra knowledge and ideas and improved stakeholder relationships. This leads to the outcomes satisfying all parties involved.

Local planning authorities should take decisions at important stages if the neighbourhood planning process and provide advice or assistance to the participants that is producing a neighbourhood plan. So planners act as facilitators working with a variety of actors towards partnership and consensus such as facilitating discussions, focusing on achieving mutual understanding and allowing different knowledges (Healey, 2006). It is not about getting people to agree on planning proposals made by planners or professionals, it is about bringing the variety of knowledge of the community into the process and thus becomes a common goal that can develop a vision of the future and developments.

The ‘Dark Side’ Of Collaborative Planning

Ability of participants to successfully plan and act collaboratively has been questioned by several writers. Allmendinger’s and Tewdwr jones’ ‘Planning Futures: New directions for planning theory (2002) argue that collaborative planning has a ‘dark side’ element in planning theory as it fails to capture the role of power in planning. You could not avoid people bringing their own interest or pursuing their own agendas. Some people try to deceive and manipulate in a certain way because they want to achieve their desired outcomes. Habermasian theory of communicative action and discursive ethic has so far led to an overall focus on planning as a practice in the face of communicative power (Healey, 2006). Power will always be present in every human act and interaction and seeing planning as a form of discursive and relational power reveals a rationality of power which has been described as the dark side of planning (Flyvbjerg, 1996; Yiftachel, 1997). There is also issue with power even in argumentation as some people have the skill and capacity to argue better than others. The driving power behind change is basically the ability to have the most persuasive argument.

Habermas (1991) himself admits, for collaborative planning to be successful, it needs to meet the ideal speech situation between participants which was previously mentioned. In terms of a Foucauldian perspective, “policy making developed from communicative theory planning, contrary to expectations, is likely to be vulnerable to the working of power, allowing manipulation and control, confusion and exclusion and other distortions to disrupt the process” (Allmendinger & Tewdwr-Jones,  2002, p.31). In terms of the Neighbourhood Plan, before it can be put into force, planning authorities will make sure the submitted Neighbourhood Development Plan follows certain conditions before it can be put to force. So planning authorities still have the higher power than local communities. There will always be conflicts between parties due to imbalance of power, cultural difference and therefore different interest which can be difficult to reach an agreement, so the outcome of collaborative planning can be unspecific.


Communicative and collaborative planning has emerged in response to increasing public opposition to urban planning and redevelopment projects, recognition of the profound inequalities in access to decision-making processes and a reflection of changing planning contexts and a reduction in the capacity of formal government institutions to solve contemporary planning problems. This paper has examined collaborative planning and its problematic and beneficial views by multiple authors. Language and communication modes play an important role in shaping planning practices, public dialogs, policy-making and collaboration processes. “Application of scientific knowledge and reason to human affairs, it would be possible to build a better world, in which the sum of human happiness and welfare would be increased” (Healey, 1992, p.145). The key lesson is that it is urged that planners need to improve their discursive skills in order to become actors of change, they should learn to listen to their audience, persuade their audience and learn that their rhetoric has the potential to create new communities and a step forward in achieving sustainable development.


  • Allmendinger, P. (2009). Planning theory. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Almmendinger, P., & Tewdwr-Jones, M. (2002). Planning futures: new directions for planning theory. London: Routledge.
  • Durham County Council (DCC). (2017). Find out more about the County Durham Plan. [online] Available at l: http://durham.gov.uk/article/18768/Find-out-more-about-the-plan [Accessed 15 Jan. 2018]
  • Habermas, J. (1984). The theory of communicative action. London: Heinemann.
  • Habermas, J. (1991). Communication and the evolution of society. Cambridge: Polity Press.
  • Healey, P. (1992). Planning Through Debate: The communicative turn in planning theory.
  • Healey, P. (2006). Collaborative Planning: Shaping Places in Fragmented Societies. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Healey, P., Madanipour, A., & Hull, A. (2000). The governance of place : space and planning processes. Aldershot: Ashgate.
  • Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004.


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