The second Wales Planning Conference, held on 2nd June 2009, in Cardiff was a resounding success, attracting nearly 250 delegates despite a difficult economic climate.
The Conference drew together the full mix of the profession, with local planning authorities from across Wales attending, alongside private planning consultancies and developers, lawyers and third sector representatives.
The theme of the Conference was delivery of the Welsh planning system, and Welsh Assembly Government Minister, Jane Davidson, used this as the focus of her address to the conference to explain how she thinks planning can deliver two key Welsh Assembly objectives: delivering the climate change policy and how it can deliver improved public services to the people of Wales.
The Minister announced at the Conference that Mike Sant, former Chair of RTPI Cymru's Planning Policy Panel, would Chair an independent steering group which would oversee research and conduct an independent review of the planning application process from beginning to end.
The Minister said: \"I would like to see the poorest performing authorities learning from the best performing ones. I realise this is not just a question of time taken to determine planning applications; what I want are timely decisions, that secure quality, sustainable developments.\"
Also addressing the Conference was Leonora Rozee, Deputy Chief Executive of PINS, who provided an excellent reflection on the experiences of PINS in England, the differences of the system with Wales and the lessons Wales can learn for the roll of Local Development Plan inquiries.
After coffee, delegates participated in breakout seminars, looking at coastal planning, Manual for Streets, housing, retail, design review, developing the LDP evidence base, delivering waste infrastructure, and using positive community engagement, all of which are important topics for planning in Wales.
The afternoon session provided a focus on the difficult economic climate which planning is operating within. Presentations from the HBF's Director of Economic Affairs, John Stewart, St Modwen's Rupert Joseland and Colin Darby, discussing the delivery of housing and mixed used developments and proposing views on what is needed to stimulate the market. Phil Williams, Development Manager of Cardiff Council and Chair of the Planning Officers Society for Wales gave a local government perspective, highlighting that Cardiff's experience was not of a significant reduction in numbers of applications, although the larger projects had slowed. He concluded by emphasising planning's role, as defined by the RTPI as: \"sustainable planning consciously mediates between short term social and economic benefits and larger social and environmental needs\".
The afternoon concluded with a discussion with a panel: Rosemary Thomas, Chief Planner at the Assembly Government, Gareth Williams of NLP, Rupert Joseland from St Modwen's, and Keith Thomas of EDAW. The panel were quizzed by the audience on their views of how planning can be delivered in difficult economic times.
In conclusion, the Conference Chair, Rynd Smith, RTPI Director of Policy and Partnerships, highlighted the importance of events such as the Conference in drawing the profession together to learn from each other.