RTPI COMMENT: Do not waste the opportunity to vote

Do not waste the opportunity to vote for the new president and general assembly.

At last, the long overdue changes to the institute are taking effect.

A key change is the direct voting for the future president and for the members of the new general assembly. These changes are not mere tokens of change but represent a fundamental shift to allow members a greater say in the future of planning.

It is interesting to read the minutes of the first council 90 years ago.

Its members included Patrick Geddes, Thomas Adams, Raymond Unwin and George Pepler - town planners who went on to make major contributions to the future of the country, and, particularly in the case of Geddes, still influence us.

In many ways, the new smaller executive board and general assembly is a return to these roots. My desire is that the institute will now be able to focus more effort on shaping the future of planning thinking and practice.

There is a vast range of issues on which planners should be making a greater contribution.

The recent presentation by the ODPM and Welsh Assembly Government representatives to the last council meeting (Planning, 7 November, page 22) highlighted the current lack of debate about how we are to address the problems of regional disparity in the UK. It is becoming increasingly evident that we need greater clarity about the way in which the emerging national and regional spatial plans fit together.

Does anyone have a clue about how we are redress the north-south imbalance?

Is there any real prospect of speeding up the delivery of major infrastructure projects? How are we to avoid gridlock becoming common place in our major metropolitan areas?

We should also be taking a lead in major debates in relation to the planning system, for example on issues such as third party rights or the distorting effects of the current approach to planning gain. There is a good argument in favour of third party rights. What form these should take is a matter on which the institute should set out its stall. In Scotland, the debate is well in hand. In the Irish Republic, the need to temper the system is reflected in the creation of special development zones.

In terms of the profession there are also major issues about such matters as resources, performance targets or single status agreements that undermine our professionalism. Performance targets based on speed and efficiency, however justified when introduced, are in serious danger of undermining attempts at a more inclusive and quality-based approach to planning, both of which require a more flexible approach to timescales for planning.

The new planning system in England and Wales gives us a real chance to make planning a visionary and positive force that is central to the future direction of this country.

Of course, the debate cannot be carried forward by the new general assembly alone. The regions and branches will become increasingly important fora for promoting planning with decision makers. Also, as individual members we can each participate directly through the evolving network of associations and networks - for information about these, please contact (e-mail) Rebecca.phillips@rtpi.org.uk.

Whatever you do, take a few minutes to use your vote and register the need for change.

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