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Look to the future now. It's only just begun!

05 January 2015

Michael Braithwaite MRTPI

The RTPI's Future Planners programme encourages planners to go into schools to talk about the role and achievements of planners and planning, past present and future. Whilst probably not foremost in Slade’s minds when they wrote their perennial Christmas classic, the programme is an excellent way to re-affirm why you became a planner and perhaps encourage some young people to consider planning as a future career!

Government and business often present planning as a problem, a block to future growth and the development of society. Planners themselves are seen as bureaucrats, out of touch with the daily needs of society. This can have a significant impact on the morale and effectiveness of planners themselves whilst also, significantly, making the profession an unattractive prospect for young people.

As the development industry picks up, so should the job market for planners, but will there be enough coming into the profession to achieve attractive and long lasting places for the future?

The Future Planners project is an RTPI Centenary Project designed to give a more positive message about planning by getting planners to talk to school children. This project has come just as curriculum changes introduced in September 2014 now require primary and secondary schools to teach how the local area has changed, and how it will continue to develop and change over time.

Government and business often present planning as a problem, a block to future growth and the development of society. Planners themselves are seen as bureaucrats, out of touch with the daily needs of society. This can have a significant impact on the morale and effectiveness of planners themselves whilst also, significantly, making the profession an unattractive prospect for young people.

I became aware of the curriculum changes by accident, when my children brought home a letter about the topics of studies in the following term, including how the area has changed over time. As this looked like the sphere in which planning operates, I offered to give a hand. The school were keen to get an outside expert in to teach, so I was asked to prepare a lesson for the 10 and 11 year olds.

Thinking of all my experience of giving presentations to colleagues, councillors and public meetings I thought that the task would be easy. The reality of planning out a lesson for an hour, however, is something new. It soon became clear that standing at the front of the class and talking was not going to work, so I had to look at incorporating films, questions and answer sessions, and break-out sessions to allow the young people to talk about what they were hearing – all quite new to me, but skills that I am now applying to other areas of my work.

The topic itself was not a problem, as the area, in common with almost everywhere, change is always ongoing. The pupils were more than aware of change, partly because they live in the area, and partly because the maths lessons on the day was looking at population change over a hundred years.

Going into school was a very useful and enjoyable exercise (not least because I got to embarrass my children) but because I really enjoyed researching my local area and learning new presentation skills. I got to talk to an enthusiastic audience about my work – not something you get to do everyday!

I also got first-hand experience of how difficult it is to access and present material prepared by planners, and placed in the public domain, to demonstrate how an area has changed over time and to discuss the present and future challenges facing local people. This is perhaps a symptom of the negative view of planners over the years, but it could also be a major contributory cause of that perception too!

I would encourage people to consider building links with schools. Firstly, for the great opportunity to promote planners and the process of planning whilst also acquiring new skills and knowledge that will be invaluable in your daily working life.

Secondly, even if you just think about how teachers would access and interpret public information to use in their lessons will help you manage and make best use of the information you produce, whether you are dealing with public engagement exercises for development proposals, local plans, appeals or public inquiries, and will save time and money in the medium to long term.

Heaven forbid but it may also encourage more young people to consider planning as a profession!

About Michael Braithwaite

Michael Braithwaite is an East Midlands based Chartered Town Planner and TCPA member, now working as a Planning Consultant. He has longstanding experience in the planning policy in the public sector, most recently heading a joint planning unit. In addition to his activities as a "Future Planner Ambassador" Michael is on the RTPI East Midlands Regional Forum, acting as the Branch Liaison with Planning Aid England and the Construction Industry Council. Michael is also one of the founders of PlanJam, a Lincoln based forum for planners to debate key issues facing them in their daily work.