Young planners conference turns to effective strategies of engagement

Fresh consultation techniques hold the key to improving dialogue with the general public and increased levels of transparency in the system should be the priority for the next generation of planners, says Andrew Dorrian.

Engagement in planning is crucial to promoting a front-facing, transparent profession that can deliver successful developments. The RTPI Young Planners' Conference, held in Newcastle-Gateshead, brought together professionals from various disciplines to discuss the need to consider the legal, social and moral implications of consultation over different scales.

The ethos behind this year's conference was to outline innovative engagement techniques that delegates could apply in their workplace. As a profession that relies on consultation to make effective decisions, planners must understand the needs of the market. This includes developers, campaign groups, politicians and the public.

Often it is crucial to balance these needs to understand the implications of representations on the development. For example, RTPI past president Kevin Murray cited the need for planners to imagine other people using a space to understand their requirements.

Consultation exercises should be devised to ensure that all key messages can be raised and interpreted by the planner. Town and Country Planning Association chief planner Dr Hugh Ellis commented that planning should be designed around a good information base. Consultation exercises should be appealing and appropriate to the view they are attempting to capture, he advised.

Workshops embraced the aspiration for a skill-based conference. The six sessions focused on the range of backgrounds of delegates, who each attended two sessions. The workshops were based on alternative methods of engagement such as grass-roots planning, local development frameworks, urban design and development management.

Milton Keynes was selected as an example of positive engagement. This enabled delegates to apply the theory behind engagement outlined in the sessions in a specific context. Elsewhere, co-operative working allowed delegates to share their experiences of carrying out effective engagement processes, with examples drawn from a range of planning disciplines in Tyne and Wear.

Study tours covered retail-led regeneration, focusing on the implications of shopping complexes on the city centre. Regeneration was a key consideration, with the focus turning to how consultation and engagement practices deliver regeneration projects in the North East.

In the case of regeneration, a significant vision might have an impact on stakeholders. It is vital to build in engagement processes to refine this vision. This is relevant in housing market renewal and the work of Bridging Newcastle Gateshead, which was outlined by programme co-ordinator Andrew Sloan and Hannah Heinemann of Gateshead Council. Even though the pathfinder was set up to deliver physical regeneration, community engagement has proved key to acceptable renewal.

As Ellis pointed out, planners should not lose sight of their core values to ensure that developments are delivered in an effective and a timely manner. Project visions should be shared in policy and development management.

Newcastle City Council head of development management Kath Lawless proposed the merging of working practices to guarantee effective delivery. The vision should be shared with the development community in outlining the potential for schemes in a geographical area and the eradication of the "red tape" perception of the planning system, she argued.

RTPI president Martin Willey pointed out that the young planners' network represents the future of the profession, holding the potential to make positive changes to ensure that engagement is incorporated at all levels of the system. This includes providing skills to planners at university, as Ellis pointed out.

This highlights the potential to create a transparent, customer-focused and visionary system that delivers successful, well-used places. We hope that all delegates gained useful skills and knowledge from the event that can be applied in the workplace.

Andrew Dorrian is on the RTPI North East Young Planners steering group and on placement in the land-use planning team at Transport for London. For an overview of the Young Planners Conference, please visit www.youngplannersconference.info. The website contains information about presentations, photographs, videos and audio recordings.


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