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Why we need politicians to share our vision for planning

19 September 2016 Author: Josh Rule

PIPA Annual Conf Mike Harris _v2Politicians in Planning (PIPA) Conference, November 2015.

To say it’s been a big year in politics would be an understatement. In May there were elections in Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales followed by local elections across England. In June we voted on our membership in the European Union, we decided to leave.

There was a major change in the make up of the Conservative Government and we have a new Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Sajid Javid and Minister for Housing and Planning, Gavin Barwell.  The Labour Party is currently going through a leadership contest with the outcome not know until 24 September, at the start of their conference.

On top of the political upheaval, planners have had to understand the impact of the Housing and Planning Act 2016 and get to grips with the recently released Neighbourhood Planning and Infrastructure Bill. Helping our members navigate these changes has kept the Institute busy.

Planners can achieve great things (just look at Brindley Place in Birmingham, the Wales Coast Path or the redevelopment of Dundee Waterfront in Scotland) but on many occasions they aren’t the final decision maker.

If not planners, then who?

Politicians. From local councillors to the UK Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, politicians are the democratic arm of planning. This is a great strength of British planning – making it more accountable, inclusive and responsive but also more contested.

Planners make recommendations about proposed developments based on policy, technical information, community engagement and advice from other experts. They provide a recommendation to politicians about whether something should or shouldn’t happen based on their expertise, the evidence at hand and the views of the community. It is then up to politicians to make the final call.

This is why it’s critical planners and, the RTPI as the voice of the profession, engage with politicians at all levels across the nations and regions of the UK.

We need politicians to share our vision for a well-resourced, plan-led planning system with Chartered Planners at its heart creating well planned places and vibrant communities.

This year’s party conferences give us another opportunity to speak with politicians about how their decisions impact the shape of their communities through planners and the planning system.

We’re running fringe events at the Labour and Conservative Party Conferences. They offer us an invaluable opportunity to maintain our profile with politicians and discuss policy with politicians away from the formalities of Westminster. Later on, in November, our annual planning conference for councillors will give them advice and information to make sound planning decisions for their communities.

The focus of our events this year reflects the influence Brexit has had on planning. The issues expressed during the EU debate about migration, population growth, unaffordable housing, pressure on services, jobs and economic growth require planned solutions. The referendum decision highlights the divisions between the different nations of the UK and the regions of England in terms of their needs and unfulfilled aspirations. Our events at party conferences and our annual politicians in planning conference will consider how planning can help deliver solutions to these problems.

We will also meet one-on-one with politicians, as we do throughout the year, to understand their concerns and assess how we can help them.  This forms an important part of our party conference activity, particularly at the Liberal Democrat and Scottish National Party conferences where we are not holding formal events.

Our party conference activity helps us to gauge support for our policy positions, test our thinking and refine our ideas.

Given policy isn’t made in a bubble, it’s not just politicians we’re seeking to influence – they listen to a lot of stakeholders working in the built environment.  Party conferences bring together other professional bodies, charities, think tanks and thought leaders who we can engage with to build consensus around our policy positions. Making our views clear to them at their conference events is another way the Institute promotes planning at party conferences.

If you’re a member who hasn’t had much to do with politicians, party conferences are a great way to dip your toe into the political pond.

If you’re a politician who is interested in planning or makes planning decisions for your local community come along to our politicians in planning conference to hear from experts about how to deliver the best outcomes for your patch.

Register for free: Creating a prosperous, fairer future – planning’s role (Labour Party Conference)

Register for free: A country that works for everyone – planning’s role (Conservative Party Conference)

Politicians book your ticket: Politicians in Planning Annual Conference

Read: Previous RTPI party conference activity

Josh Rule

Josh Rule

Josh Rule is Communications and Public Affairs Officer at the RTPI.