Input sought on how to refresh our vision to face challenges of today

Six years ago the New Vision for Planning set the agenda for the radical reform of both the RTPI and the wider profession and a review of this key document aims to ensure its continuing relevance, explains Clive Harridge.

Do you remember the New Vision for Planning? This was the seminal statement produced by the RTPI in 2001. It heralded spatial planning and paved the way for radical reform of the RTPI. I chair a small group set up by the institute's executive board to consider how the new vision can be refreshed.

The vision was developed at a time when the whole process of planning reform was only just beginning and the idea of spatial planning had hardly been invented. Sustainable development was just beginning to make its impact felt. At that stage there was not even a statutory purpose for planning.

The statement generated widespread dialogue between planners and communities about the way that planning should evolve. It was prepared against a background of growing concern at the institute that the increasing pace of change in society was putting the sustainable development of communities at risk.

The aim of the New Vision was to set the context for a radical change in the RTPI and the nature of planning. The practice of planning and the organisation that it promotes are inextricably linked. To ensure a fresh view of planning, a different kind of institute was needed.

The New Vision reflected the RTPI's role in providing leadership to improve planning in urban and rural areas, to sustain the environment and develop economic and social well-being. It also led to the radical reform of the institute.

The new RTPI anticipated in the report soon followed. Reforms included fundamental changes in planning education and the complete restructuring of the institute on a national and regional level. The changes were so radical that we even adopted a new royal charter.

Beyond the RTPI, the New Vision influenced the thinking behind the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004, which advocated that planning should be developed on a collaborative basis. Planning should be spatial, sustainable, integrative and inclusive.

When the vision was developed, it was anticipated that it would be an evolving document. The current review is timely given the relevance of its fundamental principles, as well as its value-driven outlook.

However, the 2001 document was more than a simple statement of vision and principles. It provided a clear agenda and a series of key actions that were intended to create a more sustainable and just society. Many of the recommendations are as relevant now as they were then, such as the idea of integrating economic and spatial strategies, improving the quality of suburban developments and introducing national planning frameworks.

The New Vision for Planning recognised that success in achieving a more sustainable and just society required something much more fundamental than delivering on a number of key actions. It required significant shifts in the balance of power and responsibility for planning in national and local government, communities and the private and voluntary sectors.

These changes included developing a more transparent framework for national priorities, securing greater accountability of non-elected and private service agencies, safeguarding the roles of non-governmental organisations and the voluntary sector and more effective engagement of communities.

The vision has proved to be highly valuable in underpinning planning reform and supporting the development of the institute. It continues to influence the RTPI and guide its priorities and operations. It was prepared at a time when the scale and pace of change in our society seriously undermined our ability to deliver sustainable communities.

Since 2001, that pace of change has increased yet more through further globalisation, greater social polarisation and accelerated consumption. The need for a new vision is therefore as great as ever. But now is the time to reflect on the progress that has been made and ensure that the vision meets the challenges that we as an organisation and profession face today.

- Clive Harridge is immediate past president of the RTPI and director of Entec UK. The New Vision for Planning is available at To express your views on how it should be refreshed, please email

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