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Leadership skills for planners: the gap to fill in the Raynsford Review


The recent Raynsford Review of planning missed the chance to talk about the critical role that planners can play in city leadership, argues Robin Hambleton

Planning practitioners recognise and value inspirational civic leadership. Study a fine example of planning – at neighbourhood, city or city region scale – and you will soon find that you are advancing your understanding of place-based leadership.

But our grasp of what it means for planners to exercise outgoing leadership remains under developed. Stephen Wilkinson, 2017 RTPI president, rightly argued on more than one occasion last year that "If there’s one skill deficit we need to address it’s about leadership".

The interim report from the Raynsford Review of Planning in England, Planning 2020, published by the TCPA last month, represents an impressive analysis of the evolution of the planning system in the UK, and sets out a good number of sound suggestions for reform. There is no doubt that the Rt Hon. Nick Raynsford brings exceptional insight and understanding to city planning and housing issues.

However, in an astonishing oversight, the interim report never even mentions the word ‘leadership’.  

In its ninth, and final, proposition the interim report suggests that we need "A new kind of creative and visionary planner". But, even here, there is no mention of planners as leaders, still less a set of solid suggestions on how to develop planning leadership skills.

It was an honour to participate in the RTPI Planning Convention last year in a session designed to draw attention to the importance of planners acting as imaginative place-based leaders. Chaired by past president Janet Askew, the conversation between the four participants in the panel generated ideas on how planners can expand their influence by exercising collaborative leadership. 

"Across the world, planners are making an important contribution to place-based leadership, not least because they realise that they are leaders"

The American Planning Association (APA) has also been giving increased attention to leadership themes. For more than ten years APA’s annual conference has included a full day intensive training workshop designed to advance planning leadership skills, known as the Planning Leadership Institute.

The APA also publishes reports designed to enhance US planning leadership. For example, Planning Advisory Service (PAS) Report 582, Local Planning Agency Management (2016), contains a concluding chapter on planning leadership.

Wayne Feiden, the report’s author, identifies five characteristics of good leadership in planning:

  1. A visionary and entrepreneurial perspective
  2. An openness to new ideas
  3. A willingness to work collaboratively and bring people together
  4. A focus on problem solving (instead of a focus on why problems cannot be solved)
  5. An ability to generate enthusiasm and respect.

My own research on successful urban innovation in different countries and contexts shows that, across the world, planners are making an important contribution to place-based leadership, not least because they realise that they are leaders.  

Leadership themes explored in my recent book about city leadership include rallying the power of place, spurring public innovation by promoting policy experiments, advancing the cause of equity planning by strengthening the inclusion of excluded voices, embedding international city-to-city learning at the heart of day to day practice, and drawing on the intellectual resources of universities to co-create new ways of responding to modern public policy challenges.

The good news is that Planning 2020 is an interim report. This is, in itself, a creative move by Mr Raynsford and his review team. It encourages the generation of additional insights and inputs before the final report is published later this year.

My recommendation to Mr Raynsford and his review team: Please include suggestions on how to develop planners as leaders in your final report.

Robin Hambleton MRTPI is emeritus professor of city leadership, University of the West of England, Bristol, and director of Urban Answers. His latest book is Leading the Inclusive City published by Policy Press

Read more on city leadership by Robin Hambleton

Photo | iStock


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