Enforcement event highlights vital role of profession in planning sphere

At its inaugural conference, the National Association for Planning Enforcement pledged to raise the profile of the field and looked at how to negotiate successful solutions and secure quality training, reports Jane Jones.

RTPI president Jim Claydon described enforcement as the bright star in the planning universe in his keynote speech to the first National Association for Planning Enforcement (NAPE) annual conference last month in Nottingham.

The theme of the event was "Negotiating Successful Solutions". It was chaired by Chester City Council senior planning enforcement officer and NAPE management committee acting vice-chairman Leslie Smith. His presentation conveyed the important message that the association will continue to strive to raise enforcement's profile but all of its representatives must play a part. He stressed NAPE's core values - negotiating, advising, protecting and enforcing. These are the essence of what members do.

Claydon meanwhile emphasised the fundamental role that enforcement plays in the "spatial planning universe", although he raised a few eyebrows when he made references to "black holes" and "spaghettification". Delegates were asked which planet represented enforcement, the correct answer being Mercury, the nearest to the sun. Claydon made the point that the role of enforcement is seen by the RTPI as a vital part of implementing policy.

The remainder of the day focused on the concept of negotiating successful solutions. Trevor Roberts senior associate and NAPE principal honorary member Vivien Green provided the introduction to the afternoon's workshop sessions. She made a point of discussing emerging enforcement legislation and guidance from Scotland and Wales as well as England. This was a welcome inclusion. NAPE is a national association that aims to provide a voice for planners, regardless of where they practise in the UK.

Following lunch, four workshops were held on a range of subjects, including Gypsies and travellers, development monitoring, police and criminal evidence legislation and disclosure and advertisement control. They provided an opportunity for group discussion, focusing on how the negotiation of successful solutions can be achieved.

On a different note the final speaker, Freeth Cartwright LLP senior planning manager Stephen Bate, talked about the private sector's perspective on negotiating successful solutions. Having worked for both the public and private sectors, he was able to offer insight into the difficulties faced by planning consultants handling enforcement issues. His best advice to clients is to assess the risks by calculating whether the projected cost of breaching planning control is worth it. His presentation highlighted the complex issues that a consultant may have to face.

Bate's presentation provided a fitting conclusion to a successful conference, a day that reinforced what NAPE stands for and what it will continue to do for the planning enforcement profession. Those who are involved in planning enforcement were encouraged to become members of NAPE.

The same day's annual general meeting welcomed six new members to the management committee: Alison Blom-Cooper, Cate Buck, Carl Mellor, Darren Ridley, Keith Russell and Kevin Walton. It also saw the presentation of NAPE's first annual report. RTPI director of programmes and services Debbie Sorkin announced that since the association launched in June last year, it has grown to 337 members.

Following unanimous support for NAPE's constitution, an opportunity was given to members to ask questions from the floor. The main issue raised was the availability of training for planning enforcement staff. NAPE's objectives include identifying, promoting and encouraging training for all members. The organisation is working closely with the RTPI and other bodies to develop career paths, promote options for continuing professional development and explore professional qualifications for all those working in planning enforcement.

Finally, on behalf of the NAPE management committee, thanks go to Freeth Cartwright for providing the venue and refreshments and to the Scottish Government for its offer of sponsorship. They both contributed to a hugely worthwhile day. NAPE could not have asked for a better lift-off.

Jane Jones is principal planning officer, compliance, at Snowdonia National Park Authority.

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