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Kids most noticeable in planning policy by their absence, warns new report

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New research claims children’s rights are being widely overlooked in the UK’s planning policy

The document Child Friendly Planning in the UK was drawn up by Mayor of London design advocate and ZCD Architects co-founder Dinah Bornat, along with A Place in Childhood co-founder Jenny Wood and Aude Bicquelet-Lock from the Royal Town Planning Institute.

Among the recommendations in the 53-page paper is a call for children, by right, to be included in planning decision-making and for those under 18 to be recognised as a distinct group for planning purposes.

The report reads: ’[Children] are afforded rights, ratified by the UK, which are relevant for planning policy and can act as an organising factor to address deficiencies.

’Yet a quick examination of national planning policies reveals children are currently most visible through their absence.’

The research team looked at the planning policies of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, finding that Wales in particular had a much more progressive focus on children’s rights in the development process, as well as to gather and play, than any of the other UK nations.

Bornat said: ’Child-friendly design needs to be considered at a strategic level. Many architects are naturally inclined to design places for people, but we’re not supported by local and, in turn, national planning policy when it comes to doing so for children. Our report sets out recommendations for how national planning policy should lead on child-friendly design and, although most architects might feel they have little to do with planning at this level, it also provides examples of good policy and practice happening across the UK, which should provide useful inspiration.

’While these examples, mostly in Wales, Scotland and London, are encouraging, the report highlights a glaring omission: children are largely absent in planning policy at a national level [which falls] short of meeting their rights, not understanding their needs and resulting in a built environment the poorer for it.’

The report’s nine recommendations

1. Play, recreation, leisure and assembling in public space should be at the heart of what national planning policy promotes for children.
2. Children’s needs for movement and independence should be given central prominence in national planning policy.
3. National planning policy in each UK nation should stipulate that children have a right to be included in planning decision-making. Guidance should also be available to planners to help them implement this duty, recognising children as a distinct group
4. Governments across the UK should give appropriate training and weight to Equalities Impact Assessments (and equivalents) that include the specific needs of children as part of the ‘age’-protected characteristic.
5. National planning policies should explicitly acknowledge the differences amongst children and young people. Focusing planning towards child-friendly outcomes
6. National planning policies should endorse the design of new developments and of local and regional planning policy that aims for desirable social outcomes. Secured by Design guidance should be reviewed in light of child friendly principles to ensure alignment.
7. ‘Play Sufficiency’, as first adopted in Wales and now moving to Scotland, is a concept that can be adopted across UK jurisdictions, with Play Sufficiency Assessments and Action Plans a robust and child-centric tool for understanding children’s human rights. Learning and collaboration 
8. Governments should set up clear links and mechanisms for collaboration between the policy spheres of planning, early years and childcare, play, education, housing and transport. 
9. Policy makers and professionals in planning should have networking opportunities with childhood and youth professionals to encourage collaboration, learn engagement skills, and to help them advocate for the rights of children.

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