Richards on ... signing up to spatial change

I am returning to local government at what is likely to be a very interesting time for planners.

So I would like to take stock of what has been achieved and what from my perspective still remains to be done.

Over the past few years, I have seen local government planners and their partners come to terms with a fundamentally different way of going about planning for the future of their communities. Over this time the majority of planners - and councillors - have moved from a position of anger and denial about the need to change to an accommodation or even real enthusiasm. As I meet people around the country, I am struck by a markedly different tone that is more positive about spatial planning, more creative and upbeat despite the impact of the recession.

However, a distinct minority of planners still wear rose-tinted spectacles as they look back and believe that the changes made will be undone. Some are hoping that a new government next year will indeed do that undoing. But who would really want to argue that it is not sensible to plan comprehensively for the future of communities?

And what of the future? The one certainty is more change. The political importance of planning risks more turbulence and uncertainty. What I have learned is that some of us will embrace change, make it work and lead, and others will still be in denial and angry five years on. The reputation of planners will remain mixed and coloured by our ability to respond positively to challenges from the changing world around us. I will continue to do everything I can to ensure that real enthusiasm and capacity to embrace change is seen as an essential component of being a planner.

Sarah Richards is head of the Planning Advisory Service.

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