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Presidential Update

26 September 2007

Being RTPI President brings a variety of challenges, and the previous ten days have illustrated this perfectly. Firstly, I was asked to be the keynote speaker in Nottingham at the first national conference of NAPE (National Association for Planning Enforcement), the RTPI Association. The next day I was summoned to the BBC's Bristol studios to participate in a Radio 4 discussion with RIBA President Sunand Prasad and Wayne Hemingway on the size of new houses. Thursday/Friday saw me at the Planning Summer School in Swansea giving yet another address on the Institute's review of its New Vision. The following week, colleagues and I visited Belfast to discuss with senior officials the future of planning in the Province.

NAPE is one of the newer networks/associations in the Institute and has a growing membership of about 350. For the first time there is group of professionals with a key interest in enforcement who can input with authority to the debate on the future of planning. They have already been recognised by CLG and have contributed to the RTPI's Planning White Paper response. The Association will be a focus for training and good practice and is open to all RTPI members to join (free), and to non-members for a modest subscription. It is an excellent example of the Institute's policy of embracing all practitioners with an interest in planning.

It seems that RTPI was invited to appear on Radio 4 because housebuilders (who declined the invitation to participate) had responded to RIBA and CABE accusations of building new homes too small for the needs of families by blaming the planning system. Fortunately, after declining to agree to the imposition of additional planning powers to impose room size standards, we got on to firmer planning ground on densities, town cramming and green belts. It is encouraging how frequently the Institute is being asked to comment in the media on a broad range of development-related issues. Hopefully this can be taken as a sign of our growing recognition as an authoritative voice on matters of public interest.

Summer School is a traditional part of the planning calendar, but the event is metamorphosing. While the Councillor School is in high demand, the two planners schools have been less well attended than in the past. Twenty years ago chief planning officers saw Summer School as a key networking opportunity and places were at a premium. This year I noticed that participants were younger, more international and there was a greater mix of public and private sectors. The programme is also more work relevant with workshops and study tours focusing on good practice. Summer School invites and subsidises young planners from countries with less well developed planning systems to attend and to visit projects in the UK during their stay. It is a fantastic opportunity and something the organisers have done for many years, and I like to think that those young planners will never forget the experience. I believe that the planners' Summer School can develop a new role, providing relatively cheap CPD for young and mid-career planners in all sectors and appealing to a more international audience.

Planning in Northern Ireland is facing challenging times. The devolved administration has returned from the summer recess and been faced with a flurry of judicial review decisions. At the same time the Planning Service, which currently processes all applications, is experiencing an unprecedented level of demand. Earlier proposals suggested a move towards local authority responsibility for planning in the future in the context of local government reform. Not only are there knotty issues of how many councils and what planning competences they need, there are also questions of redeploying staff and training elected members for the task. One benefit of devolution in the rest of the UK is that there are different models for the administration to consider. The RTPI would hope to offer advice and assistance in this process, and Northern Ireland may soon be in a position to offer its own examples of reformed planning practice from which the rest of the UK can learn.

The Northern Ireland Branch of RTPI has had an unusual recent history with the overwhelming majority of planners working for government, but many practitioners fail to convert their academic qualifications to professional membership. The part of the profession increasingly active in the Institute has been the small but enthusiastic private sector. Now with large numbers of planners possibly contemplating a different future, the benefits of RTPI membership are clear in terms of championing the role and status of planning, providing personal and career support and development, giving access to expertise, good practice and advice and local networks of support through the Branch. The Institute provides as much advice and support as possible to planners in the Province and anticipates that a normalisation of professional membership will occur in the months ahead. Planners with a long-standing academic qualification but who have not applied for membership have until the middle of next year to convert to full membership before the requirement of the APC applies to all applicants. Belfast is a rapidly developing city full of tourists and in the midst of a \"post-Troubles\" transformation. It needs the input of professional practising planners in both sectors, and the Institute is willing to play a full part in this process.

Jim Claydon is president of the RTPI