- Project plans
- Project activities
- Legislation and standards
- Industry context
Last edited 01 Nov 2018
Town planning is the process of managing land resources. It involves the control of existing and new developments, as well as strategy preparation to ensure manage future requirements. It is a dynamic process that changes in response to policy, development proposals and local needs.
Town planners must try and balance the demands of landowners and developers, with the needs and concerns of the community and the policy framework. If planning is successful, it can provide protection for the environment, can promote and faciltiate regeneration, can help create and sustain communities, and can create new and exciting places.
 History of town planning
Historically, the practice of urban planning and applying some level of control to the design to communities, dates back at least as far as the third millennium BC, and the urban designs of the Mesopotamians, Minoans, and Egyptians. Grid-like, or orthogonal, urban plans were first used for structuring cities in the 8th century BC by the Ancient Greeks, and the Roman Empire then dramatically expanded city planning, predominantly for military defence, but also for public convenience, developing the ‘city centre’.
With the Enlightenment came a fresh examination of the ideas of urban planning. As a result of this new open-mindedness, several European cities tried to redesign their major cities; in some cases quite drastically, such as Paris under Baron Haussmann who introduced long and wide boulevards.
During the Industrial Revolution, urban centres of the new industries grew at an unprecedented rate, albeit very often with a complete lack of planning for the living and working environments of the poorer classes. By the end of the 19th century though, urban planners and theorists had begun to realise that this should change.
At around the same time, the Town and Country Planning Association was founded, which heralded the start of the professionalisation of urban planning. With the emergence of modernism in the 1920s, new ideas about how the urban environment should be planned and organised were developed.
The Town and Country Planning Act 1947 was an important piece of British legislation that introduced the basis for much of the contemporary planning system. It was intended as a response to the post-Second World War need for large-scale rebuilding and planning of towns and cities, as well as to help reorganise industry.
The Town and Country Planning Act 1990 superseded the 1947 Act and made several changes, principally dividing planning into forward planning and development control, i.e. setting out the future strategy of the local authority, and controlling the current development.
For more information, see Town and Country Planning Act.
By the 1960/70s, modernism had many critics, who argued that its ideas and theories, when put into practice, resulted in unintended consequences such as the development of sink estates, urban blight and other social problems. Since this period, there has been more of a tendency for town planners to focus on ‘landmark’ projects in an attempt at individualising their particular area, in the hope of regenerating interest. One famous example of this was the ‘Bilbao effect’ resulting from the construction of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao.
To become a chartered town planner, a university degree accredited by the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) is required and/or a number of years’ experience in spatial planning. Chartered town planners must comply with an independent code of professional conduct, hold professional indemnity insurance and undertake continuing professional development (CPD) throughout their career to ensure their knowledge remains up to date.
For more information, see Town planner.
For more information, see Royal Town Planning Institute.
 Characteristics of town planning
Town planning may include:
- Creating new towns and/or villages.
- Balancing community, business and environmental needs.
- Helping to inform and direct local and national policy.
- Safeguarding green and other public spaces.
- Assessing planning applications.
- Attracting investment and industry to an area.
- Protecting buildings of historical and architectural merit/importance.
- Ensuring that land suitable for development is readily available.
- Developing programmes of land reclamation.
- Assessing the effects of proposals on the environment and local community.
- Inspection, monitoring and enforcement action.
- Negotiating and working with professionals such as developers, surveyors and architects.
- Encouraging education and awareness.
- Providing advice on how and when to seek planning permission.
- Undertaking specialist research.
- Advising on issues related to transport traffic and infrastructure.
- Advising on neighbourhood planning issues.
 Related articles on Designing Buildings Wiki
- City centre.
- Gustavo Giovannoni on planning in historic towns.
- Local government.
- Local plan.
- National planning policy framework.
- Neighbourhood planning.
- New Town Development Corporation.
- Orthogonal plan.
- Planning permission.
- Public realm.
- Royal Town Planning Institute RTPI.
- Town and Country Planning Act.
- Town and Country Planning Association TCPA.
- Town planner.
- Urban sprawl.
Featured articles and news
What U-values are, why they matter and how they are calculated.
The need to ensure that we plan for all aspects of our bio-economy
BSRIA calls on government to reach deeper into the causes of pollution.
George Demetri brings a whole new level of technical knowledge to Designing Buildings Wiki.
Quality professionals need to take an active role in driving the completion process forwards.
The innovations needed to move from rhetoric to realisation.
Creating a sense of place, with radically-low running costs and the highest comfort levels.
A conversation between David Mitchell and Caitlin DeSilvey.
A quick guide to brick sizes.
The Union Street development in Southwark was a passion, as well as a business endeavour.
Do our water quality standards demonstrate to the public that their supply is clean?
A third of practitioners do not have easy access to the knowledge they need.
Sustainable approaches to relief, recovery and reconstruction after a natural disaster.