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Nations & regions focus: East of England

Words: The Planner
East Anglia / Shutterstock: 42703270

A snapshot of planning in the East of England, looking at key planning themes, major projects, skills requirements and RTPI activities in the region.

The East of England is a region of contrasts. Encompassing six counties (Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Essex, Hertfordshire, Norfolk, Suffolk) and nearly six million people, it has London overspill in the south, coastal tranquillity in the north; the historic spires of Cambridge in the west, offshore wind farms in the east.

Though known for its historic cities, the region showcases the achievements of town planning through the 20th century in the original garden cities at Letchworth and Welwyn, and the first wave of new towns in Basildon, Harlow and Stevenage.

Agriculture remains the dominant land use. But the East of England is also home to three ports handling millions of tonnes of cargo a year and a burgeoning offshore wind industry that could support thousands of jobs. It also has the UK’s fourth busiest airport at Stansted, a growing international airport at Southend and multiple science parks that fuel a growing high-tech economy.

“We don’t have the budget we had for coastal defence. It’s very much about management of high-risk areas”

Connectivity is key, with government money funding east-west rail links and an expressway between Oxford and Cambridge, which is preparing for an elected mayor under the Greater Cambridge City Deal. A garden town and three new garden communities are planned in Essex to cater to the region’s growing population.

Tensions between housing, industry, infrastructure and environment are considerable. Green belt pressure is notable around Cambridge in particular; erosion is significant in coastal areas. The East is an area of acute environmental sensitivity, vulnerable to water shortage and severe weather events.

Yet the drive for growth is taking shape, with Local Growth Fund money beginning to flow into the region. There is much for planners to engage with.

Interview: The challenge of growth


“It’s a very exciting time for the East,” says Wendy Hague. The RTPI East of England chair is talking about growth prospects for the region and strategically important schemes impending, from new towns to rail links, to offshore windfarms.

Four planned garden settlements are the biggest projects, she says. A full garden town is planned for Harlow and Gliston; three smaller garden villages are in the pipeline for North Essex. The garden community “brand”, says Hague, is attractive to the region’s growing and ageing population – the East is a popular destination for retirees in particular.

Besides, it’s the spiritual home of new towns. 2017 sees the 70th anniversary of Harlow and Peterborough’s 50th. Last year Stevenage celebrated its 70th. There are Letchworth and Welwyn, too.

But such growth has its challenges. Health services are under stress. The demise of spatial planning inhibits the ability of authorities to work together to meet spatial requirements. “Informal networks of regional bodies” are still extant, but “the duty to cooperate must still be extremely challenging for any professional person to work with”, says Hague.

“There’s a key opportunity for professionals in both public and private sectors to work together, for the cross-fertiliation of experience and ideas”

The region, too, is particularly vulnerable climate change and must make difficult decisions about coastal defence under pressure of declining budgets. “Our risks are so much higher,” she says. “We don’t have the budget we had for coastal defence. It’s very much about management of high-risk areas.”

Planners must think strategically and long term, she says. The forthcoming mayoral election (4th May) for the new Greater Cambridge devolved area is an opportunity for planners to make themselves more visible – and the RTPI itself will be holding a hustings.

Despite the challenges, Hague is optimistic. “There’s a key opportunity for professionals in both public and private sectors to work together, for the cross-fertiliation of experience and ideas.”

Major projects

Garden towns and villages

Harlow and Gilston has been announced as the site for a new town on garden community principles with up to 10,000 homes. Colchester, Tendring and Braintree have been earmarked for three smaller garden communities.

East Anglia Array

Up to six offshore wind farms, collectively known as the East Anglia Array, could deliver up to 7.2GW of power through 1,200 turbines – enough to power 500,000 homes. The first phase, the £2.5 billion East Anglia ONE, will provide 714MW by 2020.

North West Cambridge development

This £1 billion, 150-hectare university-driven expansion will provide 3,000 new homes (including 700 for university staff and 1,500 for private sale); accommodation for 2,000 postrgraduates; 100,000 sq m  of research space and community facilities.


Valuable skills


RTPI research has identified a shortage of experienced planners in the East of England. Yet, with so many large strategic projects in the offing, opportunities are manifold. The growth outlook suggests that a variety of hard and soft skills could be valuable in the East of England over the next few years. In particular, RTPI members have highlighted the need for skills in:

  • Marine spatial planning
  • Large-scale residential planning
  • Planning for research and high-tech industry incubation
  • Environmental impact assessments
  • Economic development
  • Local planning
  • Presentation and negotiation
  • Seeing from both the private and public points of view.

Find planning jobs in the East of England on Planner Jobs


Recent successes

Chelmsford City Park West

This mixed-use redevelopment on the former Anglia Ruskin University Central Campus won the RTPI East planning award in 2016. It includes the restoration of historic buildings for homes and commercial use. Phase 1, with more than 200 homes and a 65-bedroom care facility, is now complete.

Hadleigh Park Olympic Mountain Bike Legacy Project

Hadleigh Park hosted the 2012 Olympic mountain bike race. The project aims to establish a lasting sporting and green infrastructure legacy for the community and visitors – and Hadleigh Park is the only Olympic mountain bike course open to the public.

Rendlesham Neighbourhood Plan

Suffolk’s only neighbourhood plan to have made it to adoption, this achieved 97 per cent approval. It’s considered exemplary, with high engagement and consideration for the development needs of a complex community close to a former USAF airbase. It was the 2015 joint RTPI regional award winner, along with...

Hillington Square, King’s Lynn

The £30m refurbishment of this 1960s ‘slab block’ estate is the biggest regeneration project in King’s Lynn. The site covers 2.43 hectares and includes refurbishment of 320 flats, remodelling of the estate layout and public realm improvements. Community involvement has been integral to the scheme, which has been praised for improving social and environmental conditions.



RTPI East of England has a nine-person regional management board and a 30-strong regional activities committee. The 2017 regional chair is Wendy Hague and the region is represented on the RTPI General Assembly by Charlotte Burton of Cambridge City Council.

Nations & Regions Focus