Conference sends message of delivery despite recession

Planners from across the Welsh spectrum debated their role in policy objectives, reports Roisin Willmott.

Although we are experiencing difficult times, it is not a universal shutdown of business. This fact was stressed at the 2009 Wales Planning Conference earlier this month by Cardiff Council development manager and Planning Officers Society for Wales chairman Phil Williams.

Borrowing the RTPI's definition, he said sustainable planning consciously mediates between short-term social and economic benefits and larger social and environmental need. He outlined a range of major projects under way in his city.

The conference saw delegates drawn together from councils across Wales, private consultancies, developers, lawyers and third sector representatives. The theme was delivery of the Welsh planning system and Welsh Assembly Government environment minister Jane Davidson explained how planning could deliver two key objectives - climate change policy and improved public services.

She announced that former RTPI Cymru planning policy panel chairman Mike Sant would head an independent steering group to oversee research and carry out a comprehensive review of the application process. "I would like to see the poorest performing authorities learning from the best. This is not just a question of time taken to determine applications. What I want are timely decisions that secure quality, sustainable developments," she said.

Planning Inspectorate deputy chief executive Leonora Rozee provided an excellent reflection on its experiences in England, how the system differs from that in Wales and the lessons that Wales can learn for the roll-out of local development plan inquiries.

The afternoon session focused on the tensions between delivering wider social, economic and sustainability objectives in the recession. Home Builders Federation director of economic affairs John Stewart highlighted the viability issue for developers, backed by evidence of "the 29 burdens" imposed by central and local government that chip away at profit margins. Many projects are now simply not viable and will not happen, he said.

Modwen Properties regional director Rupert Joseland and planning manager Colin Darby illustrating the preparatory work being carried out by the firm on regeneration projects in south Wales. In conclusion, conference chairman and RTPI director of policy and partnerships Rynd Smith highlighted the importance of such events in enabling professionals to learn from each other.

Roisin Willmott is national director of RTPI Cymru.

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