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Bringing communities together during a time of crisis

by RTPI President Sue Manns FRTPI

5 May 2020

The current COVID19 crisis has provided us all with an opportunity to reflect upon what is important to us personally, to the communities of which we are part and on the way that we use the places and spaces that make up our local areas.

The crisis has brought communities together and changed our understanding of what is important in our lives. These communities are not only ‘local’ but also extend to the ‘communities of interest’ of which we are part. The RTPI is one such community of interest.


‘Adaptable and resilient’

As a profession our immediate focus is to ensure that the planning system everywhere continues to function through this difficult period. In achieving this, planners are showing themselves to be adaptable and resilient.

There is little doubt that the impacts of COVID-19 will profoundly change many aspects of our society, some of which will be challenging whilst others may be seen as positive and long overdue.

The RTPI's Presidential team (l-r) Wei Yang (Vice President), Sue Manns (President), Ian Tant (Immediate Past President)

The Presidential team, like so many of our friends and colleagues, are now restricted to home working. However, we are very much aware that there are members of our profession who have been redeployed to help on the ‘front line’ or who have volunteered to provide support services and we would like to express our personal thanks to each one of you for the work you are doing.


New ways of staying in touch

To say that the experiences of the Presidential team in April 2020 have been vastly different to those of our predecessor teams is somewhat of an understatement. However whilst we have not had a physical presence, we have been keen to ensure that we continue to raise the profile of planning and the importance of planning and planners not just today, but also as we move into a post COVID-19 world.

Three weeks into lockdown I published a thought piece which reflected on a range of issues, challenges and opportunities that seemed to be emerging as a result of our experiences of this new world. This generated a lot discussion across the profession, and I would like to thank all those who shared their thoughts and views.

April has seen RTPI regions find new and innovative ways of staying in touch and maintaining social contact. I joined the West Midlands Region’s on-line urban design pub quiz. I won’t reveal my score, but it was some way behind the winners.


Commonwealth Association of Planners

The month started with Ian Tant’s appointment as the Vice President of the Commonwealth Association of Planners (CAP). CAP is a volunteer-based global organisation, founded more than 40 years ago to represent planners across the Commonwealth, raising the profile of planning internationally, as well as advocating the need to create better planning capacity where it is most needed. Ian takes over from another past President of the RTPI, Dr Peter Geraghty FRTPI. My sincere thanks go to Peter for all the hard work that he has put into this role during his term in office.


Awards for Planning Excellence

Early April also saw the conclusion of the judging for the Awards for Planning Excellence. I joined Professor Sadie Morgan as we judged the entrants for the Silver Jubilee Cup. The winning scheme was the Marmalade Lane development, submitted by TOWN and Greater Cambridge Shared Planning Service. This was a very worthy winner of this year’s Silver Jubilee Cup. Planners were central to this innovative scheme which puts community at its heart. A well designed and attractive place has been created which puts the needs of the user at its centre. The development highlights both best practice and the benefits that can come from thinking outside the box.

Moving forward through the month and I have been working behind the scenes to move a number of the Presidential visits to a virtual format and perhaps more exciting, recording videos at home for use on the website and at various events. One such recording was the welcome and introduction to the Awards which we broadcast at lunchtime on 30 April. Moving the Awards online was a monumental task for those involved. The support from the headline sponsors AECOM and Savills, along with each of the category sponsors was fundamental to the success of this and my sincere thanks go to each of them. Reflecting on the success of the move, it is clear to me from messages that I have personally received and comments that I have seen on social media that the 2020 Awards reached out well beyond our ‘normal’ audience. A great way to share the very best of planning beyond our profession. My congratulations go to the winners of all the categories and also my thanks to all those who entered for the Awards – it is sad that there can only be one winner in each category.


Nations and Regions Panel

On 8 April, as the Chair of the RTPI Nations and Regions Panel, Vice President Wei Yang chaired the first panel meeting of the year virtually. The Panel were given an overview of the Corporate Strategy – and its implementation plan. The discussion focused on the role Nations and Regions might play in delivering aspects of the corporate strategy. A Q&A session was arranged with the RTPI Chief Executive Victoria Hills. Some common questions and concerns were raised by the representatives. It was agreed that a questionnaire would be circulated to collect common issues to address, identify overlaps and opportunities for regions to work together.


International Strategy Working Group

On 17 April, Wei joined the first meeting of the RTPI International Strategy Working Group (ISWG) chaired by International Committee Chair Janet Askew. The group will write the RTPI’s new International Strategy, which will run until 2030 in parallel to the RTPI’s Corporate Strategy and the UN Sustainable Development Goals. The International Strategy is a key part of the Institute’s vision to be the world’s leading professional planning body. As well as members of the International Committee, the Group includes representatives from the Membership and Ethics Committee, Education and Lifelong Learning Committee, Policy, Practice and Research Committee and Nations and Regions Panel.


Important virtual meetings

The third member of the Presidential team, Ian Tant, has taken part in two important virtual meetings on behalf of the RTPI and its members. The first was a meeting of the Executive of the Commonwealth Association of Planners (CAP), following his appointment as the UK Vice President (see above). The meeting, held over two days, focussed on COVID-19 impacts across the Commonwealth – all countries are affected and the range of lockdown measures varies from advisory to full-scale curfew in places. There was general agreement about the need for planning to play a vital role in recovery and to avoid knee-jerk reactions, for instance in spreading development across wide regions at low densities or to dive into off-the-shelf projects that take us away from critically important efforts to tackle climate change.

Ian’s second meeting was of the Construction Industry Council (CIC) Climate Change Panel and is part of the Institute’s continuing focus and drive on climate action. Ian is working with fellow panel members from across many UK institutes in the construction and development sectors to devise a recommended Action Plan for the CIC and its member organisations. Despite the current COVID-19 crisis, there is a much more important, longer-term challenge for us all in climate change and the RTPI is working with its fellow institutes to keep this high on the agenda for the sector and for Governments.

1 and 4 May saw us breaking more new ground, with the first ‘virtual visit’ Presidential visit to the London region. A series of Presidential Question Time sessions were set up with Universities which enabled us to reach out to students on our RTPI-accredited courses.

As a team we will try to keep everyone up to date through LinkedIn, so if you have not already connected with us, please do so. Most importantly, stay safe and stay healthy.