OBITUARY: Professor Gordon Cherry

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The Independent Online
Gordon Cherry was a leading figure in the scholarly study of town planning. He made a significant and lasting contribution to the evolution of planning both as an academic discipline and as an area of public policy which has profound effects on people and the environment.

His work is typified by a determination to interpret the present and shape the future through an understanding of the past: geography, history, economics, politics and town planning all contribute. To present-day students this may seem almost self-evidently appropriate; that in itself is a tribute to the methodology Cherry pioneered through his research and writing.

A native of Barnsley - and always proud of his Yorkshire origins - he read Geography at Queen Mary College, London, graduating in 1953. After National Service he entered local government, working in city planning departments in Durham, Hull, Doncaster, Sheffield and finally, in 1963, Newcastle upon Tyne where, under Wilfred Burns and Kenneth Galley, his research began to flourish. It was here that he prepared the material for his first book, Town Planning in its Social Context (1970).

A chance meeting with Professor Barry Cullingworth in 1968 led Cherry to accept an invitation to become Senior Lecturer and Deputy Director of the Centre of Urban and Regional Studies in Birmingham University. He found great satisfaction in the academic life: he was an exceptionally fine teacher, an efficient administrator and a productive scholar. Election to the Chair of Urban and Regional Planning followed in 1976; between 1981 and 1986 he served as the Dean of the Faculty of Commerce and Social Science; and, for the last four years before he took early retirement in 1991, he was Head of the School of Geography. During the same period, he found time to be the university's Public Orator.

Within his academic discipline, Cherry specialised in the history of planning. He was a founder member and chairman of the Planning History Group, which evolved under his leadership into the International Planning History Society, whose overall aim is to define the character of contemporary planning problems through analysis of their historical origins. With the same objective he helped to found and then edit Planning Perspective, which is now the leading international journal in the field.

Cherry's publications reveal the same fundamental concern: Urban Change and Planning (1972); The Evolution of British Town Planning (1974); The Politics of Town Planning (1982); Holford: a study in planning, architecture and civil design (with J.L. Penney, 1986); and his last book, Birmingham: a study in geography, history and planning (1994).

Gordon Cherry was never happier than when fully engaged; first in his list of recreations in Who's Who was "work". His energy - clearly visible in the speed and purposefulness of his walk - was generously expended in activities such as serving on a group which advised the Sports Council on research, leisure and recreation (for 10 years to 1977), and as Official Historian, with his colleague Barry Cullingworth, working on cabinet and other papers on environmental planning in the post-war period (1970-75). From this investigation came his important publication Environmental Planning, Volume II: National Parks and Recreation in the Countryside (1975).

In addition, for 10 years Cherry was a member of the Local Government Boundary Commission for England; on the Landscape Advisory Committee of the Department of Transport; and - following his retirement - Chairman of the Bournville Village Trust (of which he had been a trustee since 1979). Even during his final illness when to a considerable extent robbed of speech and increasingly of movement - though undimmed in mind and spirit - Cherry insisted on reading trust papers. No one who saw him in his last weeks could fail to be moved by his remarkable courage.

A man of deep religious faith, Gordon Cherry contributed to a number of the Church's studies of the environment and society. He served, for example, on the Bishop of Birmingham's commission which published Faith in the City in 1980, and sat for many years on the Diocesan Board of Social Responsibility. In his village he acted as churchwarden and secretary to the church council. Among his recreations he listed "church ecumenism" and "enjoyment of family life". His sharp intelligence, ebullient personality and lively sense of humour made him a stimulating as well as an immensely rewarding companion.

Gordon Emanuel Cherry, town planning historian: born Barnsley 6 February 1931; Research Officer, Newcastle-upon-Tyne City Planning Department 1963- 68; Professor of Urban and Regional Studies, Birmingham University 1976- 91 (Emeritus), Dean, Faculty of Commerce and Social Science 1981-86, Head, School of Geography 1987-91, Public Orator 1987-91; Fellow, Institute for Advanced Research in the Humanities 1991-96; President, Royal Town Planning Institute 1978-79; married 1957 Margaret Cox (one son, two daughters); died Hampton-in-Arden, West Midlands 11 January 1996.