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Time for planning to seize the initiative: The Planning Convention 2016 in review

Words: Simon Wicks

This year’s RTPI Planning Convention took place in the wake of the referendum vote to leave the European Union. But that didn’t stop the speakers asserting the role that planning could play in addressing the discontent that underpinned the Brexit decision

Given the theme of the 2016 Planning Convention – ‘Better planning solutions: The challenge of growth’ – Brexit was bound to throw a spanner into the works. But how?

As conference speakers roamed across the challenges of meeting the UK’s housing and infrastructure requirements, it became clear we were entering the unknown. What would happen with funding for current and future projects? How would such a radical change affect the planning environment?

Labour MP Helen Hayes addressed the issue directly, saying the planning industry needed to “speak loudly” about the consequences of the referendum.

Other speakers – explicitly or not – addressed issues that are thought to underpin the discontent revealed during the EU referendum. Dr Alfonso Vegara illustrated how large-scale spatial planning could bring purpose and pride back to entire regions that had been decades in decline.

Paul Barnard of Plymouth City Council talked through the city plan that was enabling Plymouth to accommodate significant new homes while imparting a new vibrancy to the city.

Hayes, along with Toby Lloyd of Shelter, Yolande Barnes of Savills and Andy Rumfitt of AECOM, got in to the deep detail of how we can improve housing delivery. Lloyd argued intelligently for land reform; Hayes spoke passionately for social justice in the housing market; Barnes coolly observed that planners need to think of neighbourhoods rather than merely locations.

Elsewhere, presenters addressed the energy gap, technology, the need for a Great North Plan. Young planners stressed the need for planners both to keep up with the modern world, and to shape it.

Finally, RTPI president Phil Williams called for planning and planners to assert their ability to do precisely this. Now, more than ever, it was time for planning to seize the initiative.

“The issues that many people expressed during the EU debate relating to migration and population growth, unaffordable housing, the pressure on health and educational services, and the need for economic growth, require planned solutions,” he stressed.

Read on for highlights and reaction from a vibrant and challenging day of stimulating presentations, interesting discussions and debate.

A question of quality

Good on quality, fairly poor on speed and process – that was the initial verdict on the Planning Inspectorate from its director of major applications and plans, Mark Southgate.

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Better together

Alfonso Vegara says we need a “new scale of planning” - one that harnesses physical and digital connections to enable clusters of medium-sized cities to compete on a global stage.

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An ethical stance

A high sense of professional ethics is crucial to planners’ careers and judgement, said Carol Rhea, president of the American Planning Association (APA) board of directors, who stressed that ethical standards help planners to make good decisions in a world of conflicting interests.

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Infrastructure is the key to sustainable growth

A lack of national data is preventing satisfactory answers to whether development and housing growth is happening in sustainable locations, according to Bilfinger GVA senior director Jo Davis.

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How can we tackle the housing crisis?

Toby Lloyd, Andrew Rumfitt, Yolande Barnes and Helen Hayes, Labour MP for Dulwich and West Norwood discuss how land value regulation and neighbourhood planning need to be assessed in order to actively tackle the housing crisis.

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Let's think long-term about infrastructure

Since the 1980s we have been “squeezing as much as we can” out of the UK’s infrastructure, said Phil Graham, chief executive of the National Infrastructure Commission.

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The land conundrum

Overseas planners know the central role of capturing land value to benefit communities is crucial to development policies. Joris Scheers admitted he was “surprised by the power of the market” in the UK.

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Scottish planning review positive about profession

The review of the Scottish planning system has been “very positive about planning,” John McNairney, chief planner at the Scottish Government, told delegates. “It has not been an opportunity to knock planners for the work that they do.”

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Young planners look to the future

In a series of rapid seven-minute presentations, seven young planners from the UK and beyond touched on technology, Nimby governments, creativity and ‘shareable’ cities as they looked forward.

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RTPI president calls on politicians to take planning seriously

RTPI president Phil Williams has urged politicians to value the role of planners and planning. He said decades of reform have “undermined the ability of planners” to plan positively for communities.

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