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Stephen Wilkinson inaugurated as RTPI president

Words: Laura Edgar

Stephen Wilkinson has been inaugurated as the 2017 president of the RTPI, taking over from Phil Williams.

Wilkinson is the head of planning and strategic partnership at Lee Valley Regional Park Authority. He works on regeneration partnerships with the London boroughs of Enfield and Haringey, as well as integrated partnerships, including the London Stansted Cambridge Consortium.

In his outgoing speech, Williams said with his day job as the director of planning and place at Belfast City Council and being president of the RTPI, it has meant he has travelled 78,000 air miles, but he would not have changed it in any way.

To rack up those miles, Williams has made a number of international visits, including to Budapest, Brisbane and Quito.

Speaking about Quito, he said: “Habitat III conference in Quito included the launch of the UK BEA Group, which showed how the RTPI and other professional institutes can support emerging nations in combating significant challenges such as earthquakes and climate change devastation.”

Williams has also travelled across the UK, from his home in Cardiff, to work in Belfast, to the West Midlands, to Loch Lomond National Park, to Dublin and to Wales’s Best Place Aberaeron.

The immediate past president concluded: “I have had an unforgettable experience which was prompted not because of who I am as an individual, but of the chain of office I was wearing, and the institute I was representing. The RTPI has national and international recognition, and we should build on that status in the future with communities and politicians at all levels.”

"We are idealists"


Wilkinson discussed that 2017 is the 70th anniversary of the Town and Country Planning Act 1947.

He said 30 per cent of the housing stock in 1940s Britain was unfit for habitation and large areas of its industrial capacity was destroyed. The post-war government understood that these issues had a spatial dimension.

“A need to correct the economic and social imbalances experienced in the 1930s lay at the heart of the 1947 system. There was a consensus that firm controls to redirect new investment were required and that  housing and industrial policies alone could not present the answer.

“Planning was seen as the solution to the country’s economic, social and environmental problems.”

There was, Wilkinson said, ambition in the act, rooted in social justice, something that “still defines this profession’s moral purpose.

“We are idealists and should make no excuse for that” – Wilkinson

Among the professions involved in the development process, only planning allows the public a voice on the future shape of their environment, Wilkinson said.

He told the audience that as planners, they are the “guardians of this process”.

“We contribute to the efficient working of local democracies.”

The new president noted the devolved and national planning systems in the UK, stating that it reflected the “rich mosaic of our geographies and priorities”.

Therefore, Wilkinson continued, planning is “very much a ‘creature’ of statute”.

“But we should be no ‘pet’ of government and we need to continually challenge our governments as a ‘critical friend’ and sometimes more as critic than friend, to require an evidence base and clear rationale for policy changes.”

Wilkinson concluded by citing a quote from American President Barack Obama:

“Change will not come if we wait for some other persons or some other time. We are the ones we have been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.”

Read a Lead role: An interview with Stephen Wilkinson here.