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New UK review of child-friendly planning published

18 December 2019


This review, written by Dr Jenny Wood, Dinah Bornat and Professor Aude Bicquelet-Lock, is an analysis of how children’s rights are presented within the national planning policies and supporting guidance of each UK nation. It looks specifically at three key human rights as stipulated in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child:

  • the right to participate in decision-making 

  • to gather in public space 

  • to play, rest leisure, and access cultural life 

The Review of Child Friendly Planning in the UK gives nine recommendations to facilitate 'child friendly' planning policy.

This review follows on from the recent concept of the Child Friendly City model, initiated and championed by UNICEF, where a child-friendly city is where children live in a safe secure and clean environment with access to green spaces (Unicef 2019).

  • The rights to gather, play & participate

  • Recognising children as a distinct group

  • Focusing planning towards child-friendly outcomes

  • Learning and collaboration

Say the authors: 'Planning policy and practice is ultimately about serving the public good, and should therefore ensure the needs of both current and future generations. With that intention, the needs of children must be central in plan and decision-making. Yet, a quick examination of national planning policies reveals children are currently most visible through their absence. Nevertheless, children are afforded rights, ratified by the UK, which are relevant for planning policy and can act as an organising factor to address deficiencies. This report is a careful analysis of how children’s rights are presented within the national planning policies and supporting guidance of each UK nation.'

The findings suggest that a clear application of children’s rights and an emphasis on wellbeing and future generations, currently most strong in Wales, offer the best support for national child friendly planning policy. In addition, the Welsh Play Sufficiency Duty can provide a complementary tool, and recent planning reforms in Scotland are increasingly aligning with the child-friendly agenda. Guidance in Northern Ireland provides further hope, but there is room in all four nations to consider children more centrally. Each country has the opportunity to collaborate and learn from the others, drawing as well on good practice at a regional and local level, to improve the outcomes for children across the UK.

The report has outlined 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. Policymakers 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.

About the authors

Dr Jenny Wood is Co-founder A Place in Childhood (APiC), and Research Associate at the Institute for Social Policy, Housing and Equalities Research (I-SPHERE)

Dinah Bornat is Co-director ZCD Architects, and design advocate for the Mayor of London

Prof Aude Bicquelet-Lock is Deputy Head of Policy and Research at the Royal Town Planning Institute

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