Schoolchildren marked World Town Planning Day earlier this month with a taste of masterplanning, courtesy of consultancy George F White.

The property firm, based in Alnwick, has run a planning prize for the past three years in association with Dr Thomlinson Middle School in Rothbury. The competition was set this year by Richard Garland from its planning team.

The year 5 pupils were given a scenario in which a developer sought to build a number of houses on a playground in the town. The children debated the merits of the scheme for local residents and businesses and then wrote letters of support or objection to the proposals.

"The pupils showed a remarkable awareness of the issues surrounding planning applications," Garland found. "They were already familiar with the concept of brownfield and greenfield land as well as issues such as public safety and affordable housing."

The school's head of geography Lucy Smith adds: "The competition has really sparked the imagination of the children and given a new dimension to this part of the curriculum. Encouraging them to identify with real issues surrounding a commercial development is an excellent idea and the standard of entries was very high."

The five winners of the George F White Planning Prize were Andrew Apthorpe, Sophie Gwilt, Olivia Roberts, Alice Oakey and Jessica Sutton. Garland presented them with a personalised Ordnance Survey map centred around their home area.

Forget those unwanted jumpers, socks and candles and think red squirrels and blue butterflies this Christmas when searching for the perfect present.

The National Trust is offering virtual gifts to raise cash for conservation projects. Lucky recipients will receive a beautifully designed greetings card and details of their gift.

For £25 you can buy a heritage variety fruit tree for planting in one of the trust's orchards, helping to revive their fortunes. A £30 gift will help fund work to save rare plants such as the early spider orchid. A tenner will help save the red squirrels.

"Money raised through the generosity of people buying virtual gifts allows us to make projects happen and can make a real difference to our wildlife work," says National Trust head of nature conservation David Bullock.

For more information on how to buy a virtual gift, please visit www.nationaltrust.org.uk or call 01209 617136.

Meanwhile, a new book by former Planning cartoonist Rob Cowan casts a satirical eye over the absurdities of the planning world.

Plandemonium brings together more than 20 years of Cowan's cartoons. Anyone who can find humour in the minutiae of planning may find the volume a much-needed source of light relief.

"Town planners, urban designers, highway engineers, lawyers, architects, historic building conservationists, urban regenerators, landscape designers, surveyors - no group of urban professionals has been spared the mockery of Cowan's cartoons," say the publishers.

For more details, please visit www.streetwisepress.com/plandemonium

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