Leadership offers a chance to shine

If you would like to be at the forefront of delivering a brighter profession then becoming a regional representative is the way forward, says Jan Bessell.

So what is the RTPI general assembly and what does it do? Are we all planning anoraks who navel-gaze at the minutiae of planning policy and practice or - even worse - the bean-counters of the institute?

Believe it or not, there are real people and planners sitting on the general assembly. I am a private sector planner working for Dickinson Dees LLP, a law firm operating nationally from Newcastle. I came to be part of the general assembly via Planning Aid. I volunteered to take part in the regional review, which was to become a stepping stone to being the regional representative for the North East.

Why do I still do it three years later? The general assembly is a melting pot of the RTPI nations and regions, made up of individual elected members and those representing their geographic area or membership group. I was once a bewildered newcomer, observing the wider debate from a safe distance. However, I now know a wide network of planners in public and private practice, from educational and government institutions and other built and rural environment organisations. We engage in wide debate across a range of public policy and practice.

The role has sent me to the different regions, providing a valuable insight into wider practice through the "travelling general assembly" held in Newcastle last year and Bristol this. It is far more than continuing professional development - the real benefit is engaging in debate. You can seize the opportunity to learn from ideas presented and delivered by a wide range of people and influence and craft the way forward in policy and practice.

So what does a typical meeting involve for an assembly member? The body usually meets four times a year, mostly in London, but in the last two years it has had at least one annual meeting in the regions. Coffee or tea around 10.30am is followed by introductions from the president. We are then engaged in a full day of presentations and debate in break-out groups and then feedback sessions.

The afternoon may include further presentations and views on emerging policy and legislation or current topics of debate such as the government housing agenda. A verbal report on the business of the institute by the senior vice-president is a necessary and sometimes lively part of proceedings.

There is always room for change and development and I am part of a review group that is looking at the role and development of assembly for the 21st century. The institute needs the engagement of a diverse group of planning practitioners. Although I was initially reluctant to get caught up in the mechanics of the institute, my involvement has provided me with opportunities for professional development and given me a better understanding of planning practice.

Why not join and see what the general assembly can do for you? You may enjoy it and even become a radical force for the delivery of a brighter, more diverse, engaged and far-reaching profession.

- Jan Bessell is head of town and country planning at Dickinson Dees LLP.

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