I became a geographer because geography was about understanding the world more clearly and them sorting out how to make it better. So I read geography at Durham and then was advised to take a Town & Country Planning masters as that was one way of taking action to do that.


Studying at Reading for my MSc coincided with the Rio Summit. I had already read Carson, Meadows, Schumacher, Lovelock, Naess etc. at Durham, felt the pain and stupidity of human impacts on the biosphere, and so Rio and the emergence of sustainable development was a natural focus for my dissertation - the role of the planning system in delivering sustainable development.

I started work for Newbury District Council, then had an 18 month stint at CPRE, was an academic for seven years at UWE and then worked for LUC for another five before going it alone, first as C4G and now as Geo. I specialised in all aspects of rural development and the planning system, and was fortunate to do a lot of contract research for bodies such as the Countryside Agency, Welsh Assembly Government and various regional and local authorities on how rural areas worked and how the planning system responded to and influenced this. If you are interested my summary CV is here.

This was in the days when collecting evidence to base planning policy and decisions on was still thought necessary and paid for. Since the financial crisis this has been much less common.

The person who advised me to pursue a planning career as a means to implement geographical findings was wrong. I have found the planning system, in the 27 years I have worked within it, reactionary, bureaucratic, unreflective and ineffective. This is partly because countless administrations have overstated its ability to deliver social and environmental benefits (mainly because although the system was designed to capture development value for public benefit this was stripped from it decades ago (1)), and also because, as for many areas of the public sector, there has been an unhelpful obsession with redesigning the processes of the system rather than examining whether it has been effective in achieving outcomes.

Thus the spatial strategy and rural policies I first encountered at Newbury are pretty much the same as those now in play, and are even less able to grasp how town and country actually work these days, and therefore how to best plan for them. The basic problem is that planning policy is too simplistic and generalised, reflecting the constant theme of needing to contain the 'urban' in order to protect the 'rural', now in the name of sustainable development and reducing the need to travel. The UK (and other post industrial societies) is, though, far more complex and varied than this approach assumes, and so opportunities to engage with how urban and rural areas really work and relate to each other, and get more sustainable / regenerative outcomes from them are being missed. On the other side of the coin development decisions are being taken which miss such targets and so produce unintended consequences. These are sweeping statements I know - I will evidence and explain them more in due course.

Regenerative Settlement is my best shot at what to do about this - development which is hard wired to make things better, wherever it is. Like most things which could drastically lessen our environmental impact, its technically possible to do it now, we just don't chose to. It's also already being done, albeit at small scale, in Wales under the One Planet Development (OPD) policies. I am the main author of the Welsh Government's Practice Guidance for this, and Geo has worked and is working on many OPD projects. This is a clear illustration that the planning system can do different, if it wants to.

Geo is currently working on live Regenerative Settlement projects which will hopefully feature on this site in due course. Regenerative Settlement is also not all my own work - I am grateful to and continue to work with Stewart Wallis, Rupert Hawley, Jimmy Skinner (who is pursuing his vision of this - Agrivillages) and Bill Knight, to name a few.

Last, Regenerative Settlement is something which needs to happen, not just be talked about, and seems to resonate as an obviously good idea with most people who encounter it. So if there is something you can do to help make this happen, or want our help, in terms of expertise, people, land, finance or whatever else please get in touch.

James Shorten, October 2017

(1) https://www.ft.com/content/0f72b534-9ccb-11e4-971b-00144feabdc0