For just over a week last month this year's very successful Planning Summer School took place at the University of York.
Both schools incorporated big debates for the first time. Kelvin MacDonald, Julie Cowans, Robert Napier and Andrew Whitaker entered into the spirit of the elected members' event and gave entertaining and informative arguments for and against the motion: "This school believes that social housing should be provided by councils and market housing by developers."
The planners' school debate was around the motion: "This school believes that we can have prosperity without growth." The University of Surrey's Tim Jackson and Town and Country Planning Association chief planner Hugh Ellis spoke in favour, while Kate Barker and Paul Cheshire of the London School of Economics opposed it. Delegates and speakers debated the motion for an hour, raising a whole raft of interesting issues before voting on the motion.
"This time we're deadly serious" is how planning minister Bob Neill set out the government's aim to deliver a fundamental shift in the balance of power between central local and lower levels of government.
He described the forthcoming decentralisation and localism bill as a landmark piece of legislation to tackle a number of issues, including the need for pre-application discussions. He was keen to reassure delegates that the government values both planners and planning but emphasised that planning must be about vision, not simply about development control.
A special workshop at the planners' school showcased the current Young Planner of the Year, AECOM design and planning associate director Tom Venables, who had visited the American Planning Association's conference in New Orleans. In the same session John Evans from Cambridge City Council, winner of this year's travelling scholarship, outlined the findings of his visit to Chicago to research building preservation. Three international guests also gave presentations on specific issues faced in their home nations of Uganda, South Africa and Namibia.
In the final session of the planners' school, DCLG chief planner Steve Quartermain challenged delegates to think about how they would describe what they do if they were asked to take part in the gameshow What's My Line, where the panel had to guess the contestant's job by asking a series of simple questions.
His unequivocal message to the delegates was not to underestimate the radical nature of what the government intends for the planning system. In summary it is "no" to top down and "yes" to bottom up and planners and local authorities must decide what they want, he said. They will no longer be told.
We are already starting to think about next year's schools in Swansea and considering what we can offer that reflects the tight financial situation we will be in. If you have any ideas that would help our deliberations, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
- Linda Durtnal runs the Planning Summer School secretariat. For more information, please visit www.planningsummerschool.org.uk