Tell us about your role as Chief Executive, Royal Town Planning Institute?
My job has three big priorities; to provide inspirational and effective leadership and direction for the RTPI and members, to develop strategies to enable the RTPI to influence planning policy and identify issues on which the RTPI should campaign on, and to develop and maintain effective networks, alliances and partnerships across a wide range of bodies with a common purpose both within the UK and internationally. I have a team over 80 staff based across the UK and Ireland, and work out of the London office.
What is the most rewarding aspect of your role?
Running a professional body which is also a charity and a learned society means there is huge diversity in my day to day workload. The most rewarding aspect is being able to see how our research and campaigns have directly influenced government and devolved nations’ planning policy and practice across the UK and Ireland. When I hear a Minister quote our work or wording, that is when I know we did a great job to represent our members and have had an impact. I also love hearing from members who take the time to drop us a line to complement our work. We’re here to support our members and their positive feedback is a great moral booster!
What do you believe is the biggest challenge to your industry going forward?
The hollowing out of resources, and by that I mean qualified planners, from local planning authorities over the last couple of decades has seen planning departments stripped back to the bone in some areas. With a huge focus from the government on ‘building back better’ to support a green recovery out of the pandemic we are making the case for resourcing planning in local authorities. Planning is a gateway to construction and it needs to be adequately resourced so that planners can play their part in responding to and supporting development in a timely way. Our business case Invest and Prosper and our CSR submission sets out our ask of Government:
How do you believe technology will support planning into the future?
The recently published White Paper ‘Planning for the Future’ recognises the opportunity for digital technology to support decision making, for example through a move towards machine-readable development management policies and codes. This could helpfully increase clarity and certainty for those wishing to bring forward development. While this will not be possible or appropriate for all major developments, efforts by local authorities and companies in the PlanTech sector demonstrate that it can work for simpler policies. We see this as a major opportunity to ‘free up’ professional planners from detailed simple planning matters to focus on proactive strategic matters, like how best to delivery more affordable housing for example. The size of the prize is huge but will need support to local authorities to scale-up their digital capacity, and to ensure interoperability between systems both within and between local authorities.
What additional changes would you have liked to have seen in the Planning for the Future White Paper?
The White Paper proposes a strong role for central government, with a nationally set design code for example, and a strong role for local Government, with a super charged local plan for example, but for us the missing bit of the detail is the sub-regional or city region strategic aspect.
Many important planning and investment decisions on climate change, transport infrastructure, utilities infrastructure and health and education rarely stop at a district boundary. With so much structural change to our economy and society as a whole underway, it’s now even more important to work with others on big picture aspects, including sharing big data to help find smarter ways of working. That’s why we recommended Green Growth Boards to Government:
These new boards would provide an opportunity to deliver joined-up strategies for climate action, infrastructure, housing provision, health and education. Here’s hoping they are listening!