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Learning on the job


In the third of a series of blogs marking the RTPI centenary, former RTPI president Martin Willey reflects on changes in the profession over nearly half a century.

Martin WilleyI’ve been a planner since 1967, chartered in 1973 and benefited greatly from doing a day-release course at London Southbank to prepare me for RTPI external exams. I learned “on the job”.
Carrying out the centenary interviews has been a fantastic experience, including the first with Colin Jacobs, who practised planning in the 1930s. His interview, and others, reminded me of the derivation of the planning profession in health, land surveying, design and engineering.
When I started, much of the training was in urban design. One-third of RTPI intermediate/final exams were a design exercise.
In those days our presidents were leaders in many areas – Francis Tibbalds on design and masterplanning, Colin Buchanan on traffic and planning, Nat Lichfield on the cost/benefits of planning – and planning had real status in government policy. It was the foundation for such issues as community engagement, conservation, countryside planning, social planning, New Towns and strategic planning.
In the 47 years since, there have been many changes where the balance of government policy between environment, society, and the economy has changed back and forth in emphasis. Currently, it is on the economy and in many cases shows a lack of understanding as to the market benefits of long-term strategic planning.

"I became a planner because I saw the process as one that 'created better places'"

The RTPI has grown in membership and has very different governance arrangements from when I was a “part-time student” member of council. It has been transformed into a stronger, more representative and member-engaged body and continues to improve, especially in the area of communications, internally and externally, and in our influence of government and the opposition.
I became a planner because I saw the process as one that “created better places” and I have been blessed by being surrounded by some great planners who have achieved that objective whether in government, in private practice especially multi-disciplinary ones, working for the World Bank, the RSPB, in academia, social regeneration or inward investment. 
As president in 2009, I found that planners were committed people, prepared to innovate and I have never met a planner who, when asked to contribute a little more to the RTPI and the profession did not say ‘yes’.
For the next 100 years, I would like to see an increase and broadening of membership as currently under consideration and a further increase in the engagement of fellow professionals in demonstrating the public benefit of professional planning.
Martin Willey is a former president of the RTPI, and a retired planner and manager with wide experience in public, private and voluntary sectors.

i like the way Willey understands the treads the profession has walked and he still has got an optimistic mind for the role the young planners has got on their hands.


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