Staff ensure strong representation of sector at the party conferences

It is essential for the sector to keep lobbying ministers of all political persuasions about important planning matters and the busy party conference season is an ideal time to make the case, says Tino Hernandez.

Liverpool, Manchester and Birmingham were the host cities for this year's round of party political conferences, with the RTPI organising four very successful events that were attended by coalition government ministers, institute members, party delegates and a good number of policy think-tank staff.

RTPI president Ann Skippers, senior vice-president Richard Summers and junior vice-president Colin Haylock each led a small team of officers to one of the conferences.

They met ministers and senior opposition spokespersons to ensure that planning issues and, most importantly, the views of RTPI members are as high up the political agenda as possible.

Our presidential team also publicly debated, argued and made their views known at more than 50 meetings whenever there was an important planning angle that could be put forward. It would have been difficult to find a more committed and passionate group of people at the conferences this year.

Over a busy three-week period, the RTPI held invitation-only planning policy discussion breakfasts at both the Liberal Democrat and Conservative Party conferences, as well as lunchtime fringe debates on the themes of local communities, planning and the forthcoming decentralisation and localism bill.

Each event was sponsored by Savills Planning, one of the UK's leading commercial planning consultancies. RTPI director of professional services, Sue Percy, spoke to put the RTPI case as part of a panel of speakers. More than 120 came to the Tory debate, making it one of the biggest at the conference.

This work is a small part of a larger and ongoing programme of activity of engagement with the coalition. The election of the new government has meant that thousands of organisations of every conceivable size and type are trying to get the ear of ministers to influence the direction and detail of policy.

Putting your organisation's particular case is both an opportunity and a challenge against what is a very competitive and crowded field, made even more challenging to get right when you are trying to represent the views of an organisation with 23,000 members.

The communications and policy teams, supported by the executive board, executive team and our members, have done a great deal of work following the result of the general election to position the RTPI strategically with the new administration. But there is a great deal still to do.

From my experience, it is clear that when working with ministers in government making your case, and being seen to be making your case, is absolutely vital, even if the results can take time to become apparent.

Against the background of the worst economic situation for 60 years, it is more important than ever to lobby hard and effectively to put across the strongest possible case for planning and the planning profession at every chance you get.

As was the case last year, all of the institute's events were extremely well attended. RTPI staff James Butler and Ben Lee handed out leaflets in all weathers to ensure high attendances and it was great that many local members took the opportunity to take part in the debates too. The RTPI appears to be one of the few institutes that actively involves its members at party conferences.

It was especially encouraging to see that the policy breakfasts were fully booked. This was the first time the RTPI had held round table breakfast meetings with key national and local politicians.

Making the case for properly resourced, strategic planning, retaining and developing the skills and the capacity of planners and ensuring local communities have a genuine say over the future of their areas is still an argument that needs to be won.

As RTPI president Ann Skippers said recently: "In the short time the coalition government has been in power, we have taken significant steps to promote the positive role that planning and planners have in shaping the future. Through our conference programme we will continue to engage positively and constructively with the coalition."

Tino Hernandez is RTPI head of communications.

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