RTPI Comment - Planning rediscovered

More than ever, planning is in the news. The recent Institute for Public Policy Research working paper Going for Growth questioned the government's priority for increasing the rate of economic growth in the South East. The London School of Economics housing team has criticised the lack of strategic planning in Thames Gateway and, particularly, the perceived missed opportunity of capitalising on the infrastructure already available in existing centres. The overloading of the Planning Inspectorate in England was featured on the BBC's Breakfast programme and the debates about housing growth figures in the East of England and the South East have been headline news.

These media discussions demonstrate that planning issues that are critical to the nation's economic, environmental and social well-being demand a wider, longer and more considered public discussion. At the Sustainable Communities Summit in Manchester at the end of January, the RTPI will be arguing for a UK spatial development framework to provide the context for the sort of strategic analysis and discussion that should underpin spatial strategy and decision making.

Meanwhile, the institute and its members work away with huge enthusiasm to deliver the planning agenda in pioneering ways. A recent visit to Yorkshire demonstrated some of what is happening:

- One hundred and thirty enthusiastic workers and volunteers met in York for the National Planning Aid Conference and through a range of inspiring speakers and interactive workshops, developed their skills in engaging communities in planning.

- In Doncaster the Yorkshire Forward Renaissance Towns initiative is bearing fruit with developments in the town centre providing a transport interchange, expanded retail centre, college and housing.

- In Rotherham planners, community workers and urban designers are using design coding to masterplan redevelopment that will bring a mix of uses, fewer cars and a waterfront to the town centre.

- Innovation is not confined to urban areas. In the village of Stokesley in Hambleton, North Yorkshire, Springboard is rising out of the ground, an ultra-cool, contemporary building designed to high sustainability standards as a managed workspace providing incubator units for small and starter information technology businesses.

The problem is that there are not enough planners to do the job. University College Dublin's department of planning and environmental policy demonstrates how RTPI-accredited courses are delivering highly-trained entrants to the profession and establishing centres for research that will provide the Republic with a valuable resource.

At the recent London Planning Awards, Development Securities won the prize for best built project for its Paddington Central scheme. Writing in Property Week, joint managing director Julian Barwick summed things up in what ought to be the last word about UK planning in 2004: "The most important message we can give to Gordon Brown and John Prescott is that if they want to deliver sustainable communities, regenerate the Thames Gateway, increase house building and ensure that London remains the engine of the UK economy, they must put serious resources into the planning system". I could not have said it better myself. Happy Christmas.

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