Obituary: Professor Peter Self

PETER SELF had four careers - as journalist, as university teacher of planning, as planning policy-maker and finally, in Australia, as teacher and government adviser - though he had the intellect and tenacity to have pursued many more.

It is no criticism, indeed it is a compliment, to say that he had an old-fashioned British academic style. He was a traditional liberal; he instinctively distrusted grand theory, preferring to trust common sense. That caused him to question both the planning orthodoxies of the 1960s and the anti-planning ideologies of the 1980s.

He loved argument, whether with a cabinet minister or a student, but conducted it always in the style of liberal discourse that came naturally to him. Slowly, quietly, in his very personal questioning tone, he would advance a proposition, expecting to be challenged or qualified, restating and refining his own position.

Born in London in 1919, into a comfortable middle-class family, he had a conventional education at Lancing College and then Balliol College, Oxford, where he read Philosophy, Politics and Economics.

Graduating after Dunkirk, he characteristically and courageously became a conscientious objector. In 1944 he began his first career, as a journalist and member of the editorial team at The Economist, where he continued until 1962. But that year, 1944 - a time of huge excitement about post- war reconstruction, with the publication of the two great Abercrombie plans for London - he also began extramural teaching for London University.

In 1948 Professor William Robson, whose 1939 book The Government and Misgovernment of London had provided the blueprint for the Greater London Council, brought him to the LSE, and his second career began.

This was the time of the post-war new towns and the 1947 Planning Act. Returning to power in 1951, the Conservatives set the private builders free but sought to contain the growth of the cities, and showed little enthusiasm for new towns. The birth-rate unexpectedly rose from 1955, just as slum clearance began again in earnest; something had to give. Self's first book, Cities in Flood, published in 1957, had huge journalistic verve and instantly established his reputation as the country's leading academic expert on planning questions - albeit operating outside the then Town Planning Institute (which, however, later gave him honorary membership).

He became involved in the Town and Country Planning Association in 1954, on the prompting of the formidable Frederic Osborn, who doubtless picked him as worthy successor. As with most things "FJO" planned, so it happened: Self became vice- chairman of the executive the next year, and followed the 77-year-old Osborn into the chairmanship in 1961. He did not equal Osborn's record of 17 years in the chair, but he did manage eight crucial years: the resumption of the new towns programme by a reluctant Conservative administration, the return of Labour in 1964, and the first great experiment in regional planning in the UK.

The TCPA commanded immense respect because of its constant advocacy of planned urban dispersal, and chairmanship involved regular advocacy before ministers, accompanied by successive directors: first Wyndham Thomas, who left to manage Peterborough New Town, and then, from 1967, David Hall. This political rough-and-tumble did not come naturally, but Self entered into the spirit of it, and his powerful intellectual gifts proved fully a match for the Socratic style of Richard Crossman, then Minister for Housing and Local Government.

Thus established in his third career, in the 1960s he progressed in his second: elevated to Reader (1961) and Professor (1963) at the LSE, in 1966 he helped launch one of the so-called new planning courses, the MSc in Regional and Urban Planning Studies, which continues today. An obvious choice to join the South East Regional Economic Planning Council in 1966, he achieved the distinction of sitting on it continuously until Michael Heseltine dissolved it in 1979. He prepared and gave evidence to the Roskill Commission on the Third London Airport, and this led him to write a devastating attack on the use of cost-benefit analysis in planning, Econocrats and the Policy Process (1976) - a turning-point in British planning theory and practice.

He took early retirement in 1982, aged 63, and - after a few doubts and hesitations - embarked on his fourth career as an academic in Australia, as Senior Research Fellow (1982-84) and then Visiting Fellow (until his death) at the Australian National University in Canberra. Here he joined leading Australian academics like Max Neutze and Patrick Troy to make up one of the outstanding urban research units in the world, where he played a hugely stimulating role.

The move gave him a new lease of academic productivity, with three major books, Planning the Urban Region (1982), Political Theories of Modern Government (1985) and Government by the Market? (1993). He finished his last book, Rolling Back the Market: economic dogma and political choice, only five weeks before his death, from liver cancer; it will be published by Macmillan in November.

Soon after his arrival, the Hawke government asked him to chair a major inquiry into Australian local government finance (1984-85). Self showed amazing ability not only to grasp the technical complexities but also the impacts on the ordinary person in the Sydney suburb, and his report was widely commended.

Self's old-fashioned British academic style, which he shared with many of his peers, was one of the finest achievements of the educational system that reared him and that he served with such distinction. As grand and often nonsensical theory has overcome much of academia, we have lost much of such style, and with the death of Peter Self we realise how much we have lost.

Peter John Otter Self, journalist, town planner and political scientist: born London 7 June 1919; Lecturer in Public Administration, London School of Economics 1948-61, Reader in Political Science 1961-63; Professor of Public Administration, London University 1963-82 (Emeritus); Senior Research Fellow, Australian National University 1982-84, Visiting Fellow 1984-99; married 1950 Diana Pitt (marriage dissolved), 1959 Elaine Adams (nee Rosenbloom; two sons; marriage dissolved), 1981 Sandra Gough (nee Moiseiwitsch, died 1996); died Canberra 29 March 1999.

Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
80s trailblazer: comedian Tracey Ullman
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Stephen Tompkinson is back as DCI Banks
tvReview: Episode one of the new series played it safe, but at least this drama has a winning formula
Arts and Entertainment
TV
News
Graham Norton said Irish broadcaster RTE’s decision to settle was ‘moronic’
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Former Communards frontman Jimmy Somerville
music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Public Service Broadcasting are going it alone
music
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne as transgender artist Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl
filmFirst look at Oscar winner as transgender artist
Arts and Entertainment
Season three of 'House of Cards' will be returning later this month
TV reviewHouse of Cards returns to Netflix
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford will play Rick Deckard once again for the Blade Runner sequel
film review
Arts and Entertainment
The modern Thunderbirds: L-R, Scott, Virgil, Alan, Gordon and John in front of their home, the exotic Tracy Island
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
film review
Arts and Entertainment

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith arrives at the Brit Awards (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn's beheading in BBC Two's Wolf Hall

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Follow every rainbow: Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music'
film Elizabeth Von Trapp reveals why the musical is so timeless
Arts and Entertainment
Bytes, camera, action: Leehom Wang in ‘Blackhat’
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Libertines will headline this year's festival
music
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Dean Anderson in the original TV series, which ran for seven seasons from 1985-1992
tv
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

    Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

    Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
    Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

    What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

    Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
    The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

    Setting in motion the Internet of Things

    British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
    Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

    Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

    Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
    Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

    Cult competition The Moth goes global

    The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
    Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

    Pakistani women come out fighting

    Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
    Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

    Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

    The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
    LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

    Education: LGBT History Month

    Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
    11 best gel eyeliners

    Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

    Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

    Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

    The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

    After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot