Reflections from the RTPI Young Planners Conference, Bristol 2014

During last weekend, I was lucky enough to present and attend the sold out RTPI Young Planners (YP) Conference in Bristol, England. I would like to thanks the RTPI South West Young Planners for organising a great conference #YPCSW14. This year’s conference was titled, ‘Future Challenges: Finding a Planning Balance’, which with the speakers and the plenary sessions organised was more than an apt title for a very interesting and thought provoking conference.

This first blog entry for the CAP YP is going to reflect on some of the issues discussed at this event. The entry very much focuses on the different elements of the British system, but mainly the English planning system.

Holland and Germany- Why don’t we learn from our field trips?

One of the first comments at the conference, made by David Cowens of Places for People, was why do we not learn from the field trips that we take during our university years. I sat there and reflected on my own learning and field trip to Holland back in 2011. We looked at Strategic Planning on a regional scale and the ‘Green Heart’ Concept. For our client-based project we looked to Holland as a example of how to strategically plan for city-regions. It was clear from the visit that there was a lot of good practice to learn from in terms of planning for sustainable development.

Although David was talking about housing delivery and how land deals were done differently and infrastructure was delivered at the beginning of schemes, which I think is the most correct way to deliver schemes and commend his organisation for doing this.

It is clear that there is practice around the world we know about but we are not applying to a UK context? Why? Are we not allowed to by our planning system? Are we restricted by our colleagues? Are we trained to repeat the mistakes of our peers and senior colleagues?

I leave this up to you to answer- I can’t actually put my finger on why we are not learning from our European counterparts?  But I think it is up to us to change the ethos, it is up to us to challenge our peers and say why are we not planning more effectively and taking best practice on board. (Just to highlight the goal of this blog is to share ideas, share best practice and talk about how we can improve our planning skills and planning practices in our various nations)

Infrastructure Challenges- Energy? Why was Fracking not mentioned? Are we looking to Low Carbon Future?

One of my favourite presentations was by Tim Norwood, EDF Chief Planner. (Mainly because renewable and low carbon energy is my favourite topic in planning) The presentation highlighted that we are moving forward with a low carbon agenda, which is great. Our energy mix is becoming more diverse, which is great for the economy and the environment. But something that troubles me is why the government is not looking further to nuclear energy.

Tim’s presentation did not mention fracking, which makes sense as it is not going to be a sustainable low carbon energy source. But my view is that it will very much become part of the energy mix. I feel fracking is not how the government should be bridge the gap from conventional fossil fuel sources to a more renewable sources. I feel we should, maybe even 10 years ago, as nation pushed on a more nuclear energy mix- it’s a clean (apart from the obvious nuclear waste) process. But the decarbonisation of the energy sector is the priority and I feel the government is going the wrong way. We know that the impacts of fracking may impact groundwater, but most importantly for me it won’t bring decarbonisation, it will compound our fossil fuel reliant energy mix and slow down our progress to the EU target of 20% renewable energy by 2020 (15% here in the UK).

How can we change this? How can we influence the government to continue to invest in nuclear and renewables? Can we persuade them not to frack? Would you prefer renewable sources to nuclear?

Fight back, be innovative and ensure high quality- does the legislation allow us to fight back?

Throughout the conference we were told as Young Planners, we should strive for high quality, strive for excellence and its our profession and we should not expect anything less than the best. But in the 3rd session somebody asked a very good question (apologises I didn’t catch your name), but the crux of the question was does the planning legislation restrict us in being innovative and striving for the best development?

This really got me thinking- is this true? Are we stifled by the very legislation we are working with? Is it the way the NPPF is worded? Is the need for a 5 year supply, meaning we are cutting corners?

We are working in a system that requires volume not quality. For example the fact that we can steam roll through housing developments because 5 year supply in many Local Authorities is shot means that we can win on housing applications pretty easily. But also it gives the developer free range to say we will do this quickly and cheaply, because as was stated in the conference land prices are very high in the UK and this means quality and good design is what takes the hit to ensure that margins remain at 20% for developers.

Therefore we need to keep challenging our clients, ensure that we put our stamp on planning and design. Ensure that although legislation and the mechanisms we use to get permission may give us volume, we push back the margins and ensure that quality is not what takes the hit.

20 years from now- will you be happy to say I got that consent?

What ways are there to be innovative, ensure quality? How can we shape legislation to ensure that quality is given more credence? Do you agree that the legislation restricts us? Our clients do? How much importance should we give to quality?

These are just some questions and thoughts from the conference!! Please give some feedback share your ideas on how we can continue to be #proudofplanning and what your nations are doing to ensure that we tackle some of the above issues.


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