Options for growth explored by Planning Summer School

Experts gathered in Exeter to debate planning's role in growth at a turbulent time, says David Waterhouse.

We are operating in a perfect storm - political and economic uncertainty, a change of government and an ever tighter fiscal climate. It has never been more important to keep up to date with emerging thinking, something at the heart of all that Planning Summer School offers.

Last month, leading practitioners and opinion-makers gathered in Exeter to enjoy a stimulating programme of debates. The result should arm planners with the necessary knowledge to survive the challenging period ahead.

A strong line-up of speakers from two major growth locations - Cambridgeshire and Swindon - together with a Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) angle unpicked challenges and messages for the future. It also celebrated successes that have been achieved through strong local partnership working, good governance and political buy-in.

The common themes of reduced section 106 contributions, delivering infrastructure commensurate with housing and ensuring robust political and governance structures are in place are always the challenge. Another critical issue is skills and knowledge, particularly as we come out of a downturn.

The HCA brings with it a wealth of experience from English Partnerships and the Housing Corporation. The challenge of delivering sustainable growth and strong investment packages for places is being met through the single conversation process, which is the main tool for delivering a range of outcomes and programmes across sub-regions.

Summer school deputy president Leonora Rozee summed up: "We have heard from leading speakers on a major topic and had an opportunity to find out first hand how different parts of the country are rising to the challenges we face."

While there are undoubtedly myriad challenges for the future, it is clear that success is achievable. Summer school continues to play a key role in celebrating success and fostering examination and understanding of the challenges.

- David Waterhouse is head of planning and renewal for housing and growth programmes at the DCLG.

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