Young planners conference looks back to prepare for future challenge

Reviewing good and bad practice in the 60 years since the enactment of the Town and Country Planning Act 1947 provided young planners with an opportunity to take some vital lessons on board, reflects Helen Shaw.

The south coast city of Brighton played host to this year's national young planners' conference, attracting a line-up of high-profile speakers over two lively days. Arranged by the South Coast and Thames Valley Young Planners, the event looked at planning the next 60 years.

Opening the first day's proceedings, RTPI president Janet O'Neill set the overall theme with a look at planning the future. She was followed by Bartlett School of Planning professor Janice Morphet, who considered the question of whether history matters. It was clear that there is a lot to learn from the past, which must be taken into account when looking to the future.

CABE chief executive Richard Simmons gave an entertaining talk on the importance of good design in planning. He presented images of a wide range of developments, emphasising the physical impact that poor design can have on how an environment functions.

"Where right, where wrong and what next" was the topic chosen by Town and County Planning Association chief executive Gideon Amos. Examples of best practice and past mistakes offered a positive and motivational way to learn from them in the future.

After the morning's speakers, delegates had their say. Unsurprisingly, the hot topic of conversation was the credit crunch. The consensus was that planners should stay positive because there are still plenty of high-quality developments pushing forward and there is no reason to lower expectations.

Heading into the afternoon programme, Brighton and Hove City Council planner Martin Randall looked specifically at his own area. Of particular interest were the New England Quarter and One Planet Living schemes. There were mixed views on the approved developments around the marina but it was a good opportunity to reflect on the impressive and positive work that has been done in Brighton.

Green Party South East MEP Caroline Lucas focused on regeneration, re-emphasising the importance of planners' work. South East England Regional Assembly director of planning Catriona Riddell took the opportunity to explain the importance of regional planning and its role for the future.

The final speaker, Savills director Roger Hepher, talked about his experiences with Arsenal Football Club's Emirates Stadium development. He offered advice on where planners can make changes to their everyday work to achieve a more efficient planning system. Young Planner of the Year Susannah Guest rounded off the first day before everyone headed off to prepare for the evening's entertainment.

The annual dinner was attended by the mayor of Brighton and Hove. Guest speaker Bartlett School of Planning professor Mark Tewdwr-Jones gave a entertaining review of the rise of planning in television.

He suggested that perhaps it was time EastEnders' Albert Square was regenerated because a number of lives would have been saved over the years if traffic-calming measures had been put in place. The dinner was followed by a disco, which lasted well past the 12.30am curfew after the planners put their negotiation skills to good use.

The second day began with lively talks from Urban Design Skills director Rob Cowan and consultant and RTPI past president Ron Tate. URBED founder Nicholas Falk looked to planning in Europe and spoke on the lessons that could be learnt from zero carbon developments in Freiberg and Hammarby. Terence O'Rourke technical director Jim Claydon and Broadway Malyan associate director Ed Baker followed, with the latter making Abu Dhabi look like an attractive place to work.

Former RTPI director of policy and research Kelvin McDonald ended the session asking: "Is planning the answer?" He certainly had interesting opinions on this topic. With the conference sessions finished, the afternoon study tours saw delegates heading off around Brighton and Hove.

Many young planners said they found the conference informative and an important chance to meet each other on a social level and find out more about the different elements involved in planning.

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