Masterplanning arouses strong emotions. I’ve always found it slightly reminiscent of Albert Speer’s work as chief architect of the Third Reich.

It sounds grandiose, authoritarian, and contemptuous of the lives of the people who get masterplanned.

The idea that someone can put your home, neighbourhood or social networks into a polygon on a map marked ‘demolish’ or can drive a road through the middle of it is bound to provoke anger and protest.

Yet most of us would also accept the importance and value of effective planning, implemented in a way that delivers results and value for money.

Can masterplans deliver the goods? The much-vaunted eco towns will stand or fall by the quality of their masterplanning – design, management and implementation.

The history of planning doesn’t inspire confidence. Consider Le Corbusier’s idolising of uniformity, which became the inspiration for the housing projects of the USA and eastern Europe.

Contrast that with the human approach of Jane Jacobs, who understood the significance of the seemingly messy way neighbourhoods work.

The irony is underlined when you consider that much of the masterplanning of today is to reverse the damage done by yesterday’s grand designs.

But while much of the best work in communities has come from protest and activism, it’s bad planning that sparks such ire, not planning in itself.

To succeed, though, takes time. One housing director recently described it as ‘the pain we all have to go through’: a process of negotiation, developing a shared vision, and effective project management.

In one part of Sheffield, the term ‘masterplan’ was deemed so contentious it was described as a neighbourhood development framework instead.

The point wasn’t to pull the wool over people’s eyes, but to accept that residents needed to own the process.

In Runcorn’s Castlefields estate, the original masterplan was changed as local people had their say – and this flexibility was key to the programme’s success.

It’s the ability to adapt that makes the difference. A few years ago there was an outcry when it was proposed to demolish council homes in north Sheffield.

Where the demolition went ahead, someone had the bright idea of planting colourful wildflower meadows on the sites scheduled for redevelopment.

Now everyone wants to keep the meadows. If they can, perhaps local people will start to respect the planners.

Julian Dobson, editorial director, New Start Online magazine

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