Why is there need for the new Platform of Experts in Planning Law? (by Rachelle Alterman)

The field of planning law presents a paradox. In most countries, planning regulations determine so much in our lives: where people may live, how our neighborhoods look and function, whether and where businesses may locate their employment centers so we can find employment, the location and physical quality of our public services, the sustainability of our environment, and how we may get from place to place. Legislators and practitioners face difficult challenges in formatting good laws and regulations, and in most countries, planning laws are the target of sharp criticism; the missions they face are apparently difficult to meet to the satisfaction of most.

Unfortunately, experts in planning law in each country know very little about the planning law and regulations of other countries, even those next door to ours. From the outside, planning laws seem similar to each other. But in fact, there are many differences in detail between countries; and where planning laws and regulations are concerned, ‘the devil is in the detail’ and differences do matter. One would have expected that planning lawyers from many countries would routinely seek to exchange knowledge about alternatives for specific laws in other countries and about their degrees of perceived success. Strangely, this is not the case. To date, there is very little systematic academic research comparing planning laws and few conferences or other organized opportunities for knowledge exchange. Such exchange is crucial not only among academics, but also among practitioners in planning law: lawyers who work for the various government levels, experts e mployed by legal firms, or advocates for non-governmental civic organization.

My motivation and vision in proposing the establishment of an international Platform of Experts was to enable such exchange. I thought that of all locations in the world, The Netherlands would be the most appropriate place to found the new Platform of Experts. The Ministry of Housing and Spatial Planning – VROM – and the Institute for Construction Research (IBR) are world leaders in planning law: VROM has the reputation of innovation in planning regulations and policies, and IBR is a unique research center that links the construction sector with planning law. I approached both organizations, and together, we decided to organize an international symposium (held in The Hague in February 2007) to which we invited some of the world’s top academic experts in planning law from Europe and beyond. The group decided to launch the Expert Platform. This new organization complements the Thematic Group of academics interested in the topic of Planning, Law and Property Rights who are linked with the Association of European Schools of Planning.

My decision to choose The Netherlands reflects what many already know: the Netherlands is a world leader in various aspects of successful and equitable planning laws and in wise decisions that its government has made over decades. This does not mean that Dutch laws are perfect, or that they are free from controversy at any given time. Indeed, a major revision in the Dutch planning law was the backdrop of the 2007 Inaugural Symposium. Dutch excellence mean that its government, research organization such as IBR, its elected officials and the general public are willing to listen and learn about alternatives. And this is precisely what the new International Platform seeks to enable – not only in The Netherlands, but internationally. The IBR and VROM have kept the momentum and have now launched the world’s first web site focused on international exchange of legislation, court decisions, government documents and academic research about planning laws.

I am very thankful to IBR and VROM for their faith in the idea of cross-national knowledge exchange and for taking up this joint initiative. Special gratitude is due to Attorney Henriette de Savornin Lohman of VROM and Prof. Monika Chao Duivis of IBR and their expert staff. Prof. Dick Lubach, an expert in comparative law, gave us his invaluable academic support.

There is no doubt that the International Platform of Experts and the website will make a significant contribution to mutual learning among planning law academics and expert practitioners in many counties. By improving knowledge exchange, we shall be improving the lives of the residents of cities, towns and villages and the sustainability of the environment.

By: Rachelle Alterman
Professor. Urban planner and lawyer.

Israel, January 2008

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