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02/11/2017

News analysis: NI conference extols the virtue of collaboration

Words: Laura Edgar

Sustainability was the key focus of the RTPI Northern Ireland Conference. Sustainable growth, sustainable inclusive planning, sustainable housing, and sustainable energy.

Peter May, permanent secretary at the Department for Infrastructure (DfI), discussed how placemaking could contribute to this and the part planning plays in achieving these goals. Despite there not being an Executive, he assured the audience that all parties broadly agree with the country’s Programme for Government, and the DfI was moving forward with it.

“One of the fundamental themes for the programme is the government can’t deliver on the outcomes alone. The collaborative working across government sectors is key.”

The core argument, May continued, is that the DfI can have all the plans and strategies it likes, “but if we don’t change the culture of how we work, we won’t deliver against the ambitions we have”.

He said the DfI recognises the importance of locality-based process and is “contributing fully to it”. 

In the spirit of collaboration, May and his senior colleagues are meeting council chief executives and other leaders to discuss how the DfI’s work can best be brought together with each council’s ambition. 

Transport plans will be led by the department working with and delivered in parallel to local development plans. 
“We are committed to aligning the timelines of both and we are currently putting in place the necessary skills and expertise that we need to take the work forward that we need to lead on.”

The DfI is focusing on active travel and public transport to reduce congestion and improve air quality. It is also working on an infrastructure plan to 2050 to put before a minister – a plan that takes into account demographic, economic and technological changes that will affect the country over that period. 

“The approach of the Programme for Government, the actions being taken by councils to develop local development plans and the emerging prospects for an emerging infrastructure plan for the region all offer opportunities. If we can synthesise those and find a way of working together in a different way to maximise the opportunities for the benefits of citizens, we could really make huge progress.”


Delivering homes with local plans

Paul Barnard MRTPI, assistant director for strategic planning & infrastructure at Plymouth City Council, gave the audience an overview of the council’s strategy to deliver homes, including a few of his top tips. 

  • A guiding philosophy is needed to secure the necessary cross-party and cross-departmental input to establish the required political support with constant dialogue during the process.
  • Understand the barriers to delivery and take a comprehensive approach to reviewing all planning permissions and allocations so bespoke solutions can be designed.
  • A clear delivery plan with multiple initiatives is needed. Inevitably risks will be taken, which inevitably means that some initiatives won’t work.
  • Demonstrate professional leadership and show that through a creative planning approach, a real difference in the delivery of homes can be made.

* Plymouth’s ‘Plan for Homes’ won the RTPI’s Silver Jubilee Cup at the institute’s 2016 Awards for Planning Excellence.


On Brexit

An audience member asked May how he saw interaction with Ireland post-Brexit in terms of environmental legislation and how Northern Ireland’s plans are going to intermesh on cross-border issues.

May noted how the legislation will be written into UK law first, but said there are two debates to be had.

“One is what does Brexit actually mean in terms of how the world will work afterwards, but there is a second key debate, which is, those powers that return to the UK – do they rest in London, or Belfast, Edinburgh and Cardiff? And that is a debate that really hasn’t started yet because there isn’t enough clarity about the first. So we can all see the challenges that there are ahead, but I don’t think at this stage we can provide answers.”


Dementia in Northern Ireland

Pamela Frazer, dementia friendly communities support manager, at Alzheimer’s Society, spoke at the conference and to The Planner after the event. She urged planners to think carefully about the factors that could make journeys into town a lot easier for those with dementia.

“There are currently 20,400 people living with dementia in Northern Ireland. Approximately 35 per cent do not have a formal diagnosis therefore it can be difficult to provide adequate support.  It is expected that these numbers will more than treble in the next 20-30 years so the responsibility is on planners now to think ahead and plan for the future of the project.

“Dementia is a disease of the brain and as well as memory loss there can be significant impact on all aspects of health and wellbeing. Vision can be greater impaired and planners need to take into account the changes in perception that a person living with dementia may experience, for example, the public realm works with a variety of shades of paving stones may cause a lot of confusion, is the edge of the kerb clearly defined, is the journey that the person is taking clear and concise?  

“Walk around the planned area and judge how clear the signs are, are their enough directional arrows, will the experience be fully supported by the necessary information? Does the seating look like a seat or is it ultra-modern and not therefore easily recognised as a seat  We know that on average older people will walk approximately 10 minutes before they need to sit down - is the seating spaced accordingly? Reflective surfaces can prove difficult as the three dimensional perception can be lost.”

Read about the RTPI's dementia practice note here.


Image credit | iStock

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