Rough Theory

Theory In The Rough

Developing Regulation

In the postgraduate Planning Theory course, which I am currently redesigning, one of our recurrent themes was the process whereby support comes to be mobilised in favour of particular kinds of regulation. A number of our inherited readings asserted what, from my point of view, is a very artificial opposition between capitalism and regulation, and spoke as though the core, defining characteristic of capitalist enterprise is a bottom line orientation to the unconstrained reduction of the immediate costs of production – a concept that, if you take it seriously, can make it very, very difficult to make sense of the social history behind large-scale regulatory shifts (empirically, large business enterprises becoming concerned with the implications of social or environmental problems, and then throwing their weight behind specific regulatory initiatives, often heralds important policy “tipping points”).

In the course, we dealt mainly with 19th and early 20th century cases. An article by Royce Millar in today’s Age provides a more contemporary example: Millar reports on the support of several major developers for a proposal for a new “inclusionary zone” in the inner city, which would require developers to provide affordable rental housing to be managed by a community housing association.

Notable (from my perspective, at least) is the way the article draws attention to the bottom-line focus on the developers’ need for predictability, and the ways in which additional costs can be accommodated, as long as they can be forecasted. The article notes developer concern with social polarisation, and includes a few quotes from developers on the need for regulation to be implemented with sufficient clarity to enable forward planning (Rod Fehring from Lend Lease Communities, for example, proclaimed that he was “keen” to incorporate affordable housing “As long as it’s clear what the objective is, then we can cope with it”).

Developer support for the proposal is, of course, both mixed, and qualified – the article alludes several times to the ways in which developers are pushing the government for various concessions in exchange for the provision of affordable housing. Developers, however, will be cooling their heels on the issue for the time being, as the Victorian government apparently regards the issue as too volatile for the election period, and has cancelled a meeting intended to discuss how the proposal could be implemented.

2 responses to “Developing Regulation

  1. martin turnbull November 5, 2006 at 5:57 pm

    Yes, I’ve often made the same remark about capitalism and regulation, and been frustrated with being lectured (including by RMIT staff) about the paramount importance of certainty – certainty for whom you might ask. Inconclusionary zoning is a fascinating example. In fact, many policy makers argue that it’s unnecessary because there’s nothing stopping the same arrangements being negotiated under current legislative heads of powers. The point is that developers stand to gain by playing in this game through the various planning bonuses and allowances provided. The whole system can be seen as premised on the need for adjustment to market failure – not only in terms of viable developments, but also workforce sustainability and reproduction. The interesting longer term question perhaps is whether the system helps to usher in a more collaborative, communicative approach to planning, or whether it merely hardens the arteries of a divisive model. Meanwhile, don’t get too excited at 50 units of social housing in the mountains of excusivity down on the Docks.

  2. N Pepperell November 5, 2006 at 6:13 pm

    Hey Martin – I didn’t realise you were lurking (I might have written something more sophisticated if I had known ;-P).

    If you’ve done the postgrad theory course, incidentally, I’d really appreciate your general opinions about the course – what it does well, what it should spend more time on, etc. I taught into the course this term for the first time, in part to help prepare for the redesign, but (speaking of collaboration) would rather have input from people who have taken the course, before I re-engineer the course around my interests…

    On your specific points – I’d certainly agree with this: “Meanwhile, don’t get too excited at 50 units of social housing in the mountains of excusivity down on the Docks.” There is a certain… lack of appreciation of the scale involved, at least in the article cited…

    This, however, is probably more complicated: “many policy makers argue that it’s unnecessary because there’s nothing stopping the same arrangements being negotiated under current legislative heads of powers.” There are structural pressures for the creation of a “level playing field” – and, yes, structural pressures for predictability (for business) – that would tend to generate pressures for more general regulation, rather than case-by-case negotiation.

    You’re right that this sits in tension with collaborative and communicative planning principles, which require more case-by-case flexibility – the question then becomes what sorts of pressures are stacked against communicative models, and how to tilt structural incentives in favour of these models, if this is what we are trying to do…

    P.S. I assume this was just a typo, but I really like the phrase “inconclusionary zoning”.

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