The Working in the Public Interest (WITPI) project is the first major investigation in the UK into the increasing involvement of private companies in carrying out professional spatial planning work for local government.
In the postwar era, decisions about urban development were justified with the idea that state-employed planners served a unified public interest. As politically-neutral bureaucrats working in government, they stood above particular interests to serve a common good. Although this ‘public interest’ justification has long been challenged it remains important for professional practice.
Over the last 20 years organisational reforms (intensified by austerity) have seen some planning functions of the state devolved to local communities, while the role of the market has been expanded with the private sector increasingly delivering planning services. Nearly half of all UK Chartered Planners now work for private firms and the Government seeks to extend private sector involvement. Alongside this are wider debates on the role of the private sector in delivering public services. Despite this, there has been little research on the effects of privatisation on professionalism and how the public interest is understood in planning.