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News Analysis: The challenge of growth

Words: Laura Edgar

The UK population is projected to grow to more than 70 million by 2030, so how can planners deliver places that accommodate this growth?

This is the theme for the 2016 RTPI Planning Convention: ‘Better planning solutions – the challenge of growth’, at which speakers will discuss the solutions that planners have devised to tackle infrastructure, housing and economic issues at a time when new policy frameworks are being adopted and resources limited.

Tickets can be ontained from the Planning Convention website, while ahead of the event The Planner asked a number of convention speakers to explain what planning can do to secure economic growth.

What is the one big thing that planning can do to help the UK secure sustainable economic growth?


Phil Williams, president, RTPI: Planning is the vehicle by which existing communities can be supported through creative regeneration powers, and new developments can be secured in sustainable locations. Without the influence of enabling planning tools, sustainable economic growth is more difficult to achieve.

Paul Barnard, assistant director of strategic planning and infrastructure, Plymouth City Council: Properly resourced, democratically accountable planning departments – without committed, dedicated, professional staff, planning and the planning system will fail to deliver sustainable development.

Toby Lloyd, head of policy, Shelter: Strong, positive planning should set land values at a level that makes affordable housing, infrastructure and high-quality places.

Joris Scheers, visiting professor at KU Leuven and president, ECTP-CEU: Planning takes care of coherent and integrated solutions for new as well as transforming spatial developments. The right activities on the right spot, adequately connected with servicing networks and taking care of people’s quality of life. So, in a nutshell – coordinate and integrate.Planning

Steven Fidgett, head of planning, UK, WYG: Planning needs to plan more positively and more quickly. There are still too many authorities with pre-2012 local plans, or none at all, that appear either in denial or too slow to address the scale of the problem and urgency of the need for change. Housing is the number one issue, but poor infrastructure and employment space are not far behind in many areas. Planning should be about constantly reassessing needs, positively promoting sustainable development and providing for development in a manner that places least stress on transport and essential infrastructure. We must be looking at how towns, cities and our country can be best served by development in sustainable locations that minimise the call on new infrastructure and get the most from the investment in new infrastructure that is, in many cases, inevitably required.

Dr Hugh Ellis, head of policy, Town and Country Planning Association: Coordination and the creation of certainty so that investment leads to truly sustainable development.

Viral Desai, senior planner at Barton Willmore and RTPI Young Planner of the Year, 2015: To have a holistic outlook. Often we are bogged down with housing delivery, economic growth. There is a need to understand that we can’t achieve the aims of sustainable growth without looking holistically at society, the environment and economic growth to deliver sustainable economic growth.

Lucy Seymour-Bowdery, senior planner, West Sussex County Council: Planning can bring long-term strategic thinking to guide local decision making when shaping places. Strategic spatial planning is vital to securing sustainable economic growth in the UK when investing in the homes and infrastructure needed to support future generations.

What is the challenge for planners with the housing crisis/shortage?

Williams: Planners need to ensure engagement with political decision-making is central to their role, and that the housing crisis is, inter alia, dependent on a robust and responsive planning system.

Road infrastructureWhat does a plan really need to be deliverable and to succeed?

Barnard: Three things:

  A. Creating a plan that is driven by vision rather than regulation – creative solutions and a determination to succeed.

  B. The key ingredients of a pioneering approach – securing political and stakeholder buy-in and the importance of proactively managing relationships.

  C. The key ingredients of a plan that everyone can feel they own – listening, building trust and having fun.

What do we need to change to make housing more accessible to a wider range of people?

Lloyd: Allow local planning authorities to provide sufficient amounts of genuinely affordable homes to rent.

What’s the one thing the UK could learn from overseas about land value capture?

Scheers: Public authorities that acknowledge the importance of land value capture for the wellbeing of the community, put it at the centre of their urban development policy and create instruments to capture the benefits.

How do we make land more affordable?

Fidgett: Increase the supply of development land, simple as that. As any planning graduate will tell you, planning intervenes in the right of an individual to do what they wish with their land. It places a restriction on the availability of land for development and only in increasing supply will the cost of development be brought under control. Talk of market intervention, a modern development land tax, would be folly and does not address the fundamental supply- demand imbalance.

How significant will district energy systems be in providing energy in the future?

Ellis: Decentralised energy sources like district energy systems has the potential to deliver zero carbon, locally controlled energy supplies that can save money and provide for energy security for the future, is the ultimate win-win.

What are you going to be talking about at the convention? Why?

Desai: I am going to be giving a presentation on what I think the future holds for planning and planners, in an attempt to be as creative as possible. Why? It’s important to understand as a young planner where the profession is going, what we can influence, but also to see our role in the wider arguments of delivering a more sustainable society. We have an important role in not only shaping the built environment but sustainability as a whole. Therefore, we need to understand and be reflective of what the future holds for town planners.

Seymour-Bowdery: As the RTPI Trustee for Young Planners, I will be presenting my views on what the future holds for planning and planners as part of a session with five of my peers. It is fantastic that the profession provides a platform for young planners to share their views and influence future thinking.

More from the speakers:

Angle of attack: An interview with Phil Williams

Everything in its place

Let's talk about the green belt, says Shelter’s Tony Lloyd

Spatial equality: An interview with Joris Scheers

“No consensus about purpose of planning”, says Ellis 

When Zoe met Viral: Young Planners of the Year in conversation

Image credits | Shuttershock and iStock