Event offers consultancies platform to discuss spatial planningpractice

A training day in September organised by the institute brought practitioners from Savills Hepher Dixon up to speed on their role in spatial planning practice and the public sector reform agenda, discovers Chris Sheridan.

The RTPI is seeking to help planners rediscover the practice of effective spatial planning and play an extended role in the government's public sector reform agenda. The findings of the Effective Practice in Spatial Planning report form the basis of a series of training events for practitioners.

The report (Planning, 8 June, p28) sets out an agenda for planners that emphasises the importance of working with a wide range of departments and agencies, both inside and outside local authorities, in creating successful places. It offers advice to private sector consultancies on dealing with clients and engaging local authorities.

The study was carried out by a team from University College London and Deloitte under the leadership of Janice Morphet. The project, managed by the RTPI with support from the DCLG, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the Greater London Assembly, aimed to establish how spatial planning is interpreted by professionals working on the first generation of regional spatial strategies and local development frameworks (LDFs).

Members of RTPI learning partner company Savills Hepher Dixon attended one such event. A masterclass led by Morphet looked at the definition of planning in the Town and Country Planning Act 1947, which emphasises place-shaping and delivery. The planners charged with this responsibility include professionals from housing, highways, education and health. The intention is to ensure that all stakeholders participate in creating places. Planners have moved away from this role but it is now back on the agenda, as seen in the local government white paper and the public sector reform agenda.

Delegates were brought up to date on public sector reform with a step-by-step journey through local area agreements, local strategic partnerships (LSPs), community strategies and LDFs. This was set in context by a survey of public sector reviews including Barker, Eddington, Hampton, Lyons, Stern and Varney, highlighting the challenges facing public sector planners.

Spatial planning is now intended to improve delivery and enable a more integrated approach by the corporate management of local authorities. Government thinking is moving towards strengthening LSPs by giving them greater budgetary responsibility and a more influential corporate role. Last year's local government white paper would encourage councils to promote their areas. Council leaders could be elected every four years.

There is a real push from the government for councils to increase their use of evidence so they can improve their performance and maximise their resources while meeting the needs of communities. A robust evidence base is a vital tool in place-shaping. By adopting a joined-up approach, statistics from education, health and social services such as school exclusions, teenage pregnancy and levels of benefit claims could be used to help identify potential problems and inform the council's response through local solutions that involve the private and public sectors.

Spatial planning requires planners to think about new concepts. The social, economic and environmental characteristics of an area are as important as their physical features. Planners must be careful to use evidence from consultations to support decisions across the council.

The importance of councils identifying issues surrounding planning gain in advance was discussed. Concerns were expressed over cases where money disappears from the budget with no clear outcome from investment. Public sector planners should promote examples of community improvements so the public can see how developments make a positive contribution.

The opportunity to explore core strategies also formed the basis of discussion. It is the key focus in the most recent Planning Inspectorate tests of soundness. If the strategy does not pass the test it will be returned very quickly as examination begins at the point of receipt by the inspector.

Chris Sheridan is the RTPI Planners in the Workplace (PIWP) manager. For further information on the PIWP initiative, visit www.rtpi.org.uk. For more details of the spatial planning update masterclass, email mary.murphy@rtpi.org.uk.

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