UK planning systems ‘neglecting rights of children’

Finding follows reports of developers banning children who live in social housing from communal play areas.



Planning systems in the UK are failing to consider the rights and needs of children, leading to detrimental effects on their health, wellbeing, and future prospects, according to a new report.

With children from social housing reportedly being banned from communal play areas by developers, research released by the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) reveals that the past 50 years have seen a ‘drastic reduction’ in the use of outdoor spaces by children – as national policy has increasingly focused on economics rather than people.

The report, commissioned by the RTPI and written by Dr Jenny Wood, co-founder of A Place in Childhood; and Dinah Bornat, co-director of ZCD Architects, calls for a more rights-based approach to future planning policies, which would include children in decision-making processes.

“If we are honest and serious about building inclusive and diverse communities, we have to take into account children’s needs and rights,” said RTPI deputy head of policy and research Professor Aude Bicquelet-Lock.

“Planning systems across the UK have obligations to meet these needs through both UK government commitments to the UNCRC, as well as Equalities and child-specific legislation,” she said.

The report examines the extent to which UK planning meets three internationally developed and recognised rights enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989):

• Article 12 – a right to be heard and taken seriously in all matters affecting them
• Article 15 – a right to gather and use public space, providing no laws are broken
• Article 31 – a right to play, rest, leisure and access cultural life appropriate to their age

Although the UK ratified the UNCRC in 1991, it never integrated it directly into domestic law, but instead committed to meet the convention through legislative and policy measures.

But the report highlights that little consideration is being given to the fact that outdoor play is fundamental to children’s wellbeing and long-term development, as well as improving community cohesion, in UK planning policies.

The report points to pockets of rights-focussed policy beginning to emerge in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland; but there is a dearth at national level in England.

Earlier this year, developers in South London were accused of preventing children living in social housing from entering a communal play area.

The policy was widely condemned by local and national politicians, leading to developer Henley Homes claiming there had never been any intention to bar children who live in social housing from play areas.

The story raised important issues about the lack of child-friendly policies and guidance at a national level, said Professor Bicquelet-Lock.

She said: “The stark truth is that children are most visible across UK planning policies through their absence.

“In most cases, social issues relevant to planning are relegated to guidance rather than to key national planning policies and frameworks.”

The report points to a consistent and growing body of evidence showing that, although parks, playgrounds, and skateparks have arisen over time, these adult creations do not necessarily chime with the self-reported spatial needs and understandings of children.

Prof Bicquelet-Lock added that, although the overall picture was bleak, there were notable and commendable practices occurring at national, regional, and local level with regard to an orientation towards children in planning.

“Wales and Scotland in particular are making strides, and a number of local authorities are taking it upon themselves to consider child-friendly planning in the absence of strategic impetus from the UK or its devolved governments.

“This is especially note-worthy in Northern Ireland,” she said.