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RTPI Presidential Team’s report to members - November 2020

by RTPI President Sue Manns FRTPI


Although much of the UK and Ireland were experiencing tight COVID restrictions for much of the month, this had little impact on the ‘virtual’ world and the work of the RTPI’s Presidential Team. This report showcases the highlights of this busy month and includes links to a range of recordings from different events that we were part of.


2 November

The month began with another stop on the President’s virtual tour of the UK and Ireland, this time to Lowestoft, the most easterly town in the UK.

Andrew Pearce, Suffolk County Council project manager for the 3rd Lake Lothing crossing, took us through the project to improve connections between the two halves of the town.

There had been a long-standing campaign for a third crossing. Having secured funding in 2016, work commenced. Following comments by CABE Design Council, the approach became very much design-led, and the result was a striking bridge design.

An innovative public consultation exercise, including a stunning ‘fly through’, secured 96% support for the crossing and 84% support for the design. The new 'Gull Wing' bridge was named by school children; a name which really captures the essence of the design and the way the lifting section of the bridge operates.

The DCO application was approved this year, with a start on site planned for spring 2021 and completion 2023.

Many thanks to John Dagg and all at East of England for organising this special visit.


6 November

As part of the RTPI’s World Town Planning Day celebration, Vice President Wei Yang joined an RTPI West Midlands seminar entitled Perspectives from Europe: Climate, the environment and their challenges for planning. The event was chaired by RTPI Past President John Acres. Two leading international planning experts, Vincent Nadin and Janice Morphet shared their thoughts from European perspectives.


8 November

8 November is World Town Planning Day and this year it fell on the opening day of the 56th Annual Congress of the International Society of City and Regional Planners (ISOCARP). I was honoured and privileged to celebrate this by delivering the keynote speech at this event on behalf of the RTPI.

Last year marked the 70th anniversary of World Town Planning Day, when the focus of the celebrations was the achievements of seven decades of planning globally and committing ourselves to at least seventy more years of serving the public interest through planning everywhere.

The world has changed over the past 12 months in so many ways and as planners wherever we are in the world we have a shared obligation to reflect on the unequal impacts of the pandemic and ensure that we put in place resilient new pathways to support a greener, place-based recovery from COVID 19, which will deliver an inclusive, fair and sustainable future for everyone.

To mark the 71st anniversary of World Town Planning Day, the Global Planners Network (a global organisation gathering over 100,000 professional planners worldwide) issued a statement which I was privileged to share as part of my speech.


9 November

Immediate Past President Ian Tant made a speech to planners in Fiji as part of their celebration of World Town Planning Day. Delivered in a pre-recorded video, Ian acknowledged at the outset his disappointment at not being able to visit Fiji but noted that he was saving the islands from the risk of transmitting Covid (Fiji so far has had just 34 cases of Covid since the start of the year, although this has now been increased as 29 members of the touring rugby team have contracted the virus in travelling to the UK). As the RTPI Board Champion for Climate Action, Ian also noted the huge saving in carbon footprint by not travelling.

In the speech, Ian reflected that the triple challenges facing the world – pandemics, climate change and rapid urbanisation – are linked issues to which planning can present many answers by ensuring that development is sustainably designed and located, by including the provision of green space, and by enabling climate adaptation as well as mitigation.


11 November

The first ever Young Planners Virtual Conference was an amazing event! As RTPI President, I had the great privilege and honour of opening the event and chairing the first plenary session in which three amazing and inspirational young planners shared their experiences of leadership and their thoughts on what makes a good leader.

It was a real privilege to chair this plenary and to hear from Lucy Seymour-Bowdery about her career and how she had decided to become a member of the RTPI Board of Trustees. Tom Carpen drew on his experience at the GLA explaining how he had been entrusted to lead a team early in his career and Olafiyin Taiwo talked about how she had been inspired by her father who was also a planner and has since gone on to become the Convenor for the Commonwealth Association of Planners Young Planners Network.

The Q and A session that followed highlighted the role and importance of mentors, especially for Young Planners.

The plenary showed how it doesn’t matter what stage you are at in your career, or what your role is - you can have an influence and demonstrate leadership.


12 November

As President, I was invited to deliver a keynote speech for the Landscape Institute. The topic was something very close to my heart and reflected the key messages of my Presidential year - it was about the importance of equality, diversity and inclusivity, both within the profession and in our community engagement practices.

With complex issues, it is simply not possible for one person, or a group of people from similar backgrounds, to have all the relevant insights. Decisions taken within an ‘echo chamber’ will tend to reflect the views of those within that chamber. Planning is for and about everyone, so it is essential that those taking decisions on the future of our places and spaces must better reflect the diversity of the communities that they serve.

As a profession we are leading the way within the built environment professions to address the challenges of equality, diversity and inclusivity. The importance of EDI to the profession is reflected in the fact that it forms one of the four pillars of our Corporate Strategy 2020-2030, which is underpinned by the CHANGE action plan. The recent appointment of a new EDI manager is key to this – where the RTPI leads, let’s hope others will follow.

Turning to EDI and community engagement, having set out the scale of the challenge we face in terms of hearing from diverse voices, I illustrated the importance of this using the recent RTPI publication Dementia and Town Planning to highlight some of the different ways those with dementia use the environment. Listening to diverse voices brings new perspectives and new ways of thinking about old problems. Just because something has always been done one way, does not mean that it must continue to be – there may be a better solution and one that works for more people.

There are some great examples of good community engagement, but more often than not it is not inclusive and diverse voices are not heard. What we now celebrate as ‘best practice’ should become ‘standard practice’; it should be the benchmark below which engagement activities should not fall. We have a responsibility to those alive today, and to the generations that will follow, to do better.


12 November

The penultimate stop on the President's virtual tour of the UK and Ireland was Galway and what an amazing visit this was. I never cease to be inspired by those I meet and the work they are doing. Brian Corcoran, Brendan Dunne, Valerie Loughnane (Galway County Council Planning team), Caroline Phelan and Helen Coleman (Galway City Council Planning Team), Aidan Culhane (Chair of RTPI Ireland) and Craig McLaren (RTPI Ireland Director) were no exception to this as they took time to share the challenges and opportunities of planning in this beautiful area.

County Galway is full of contrasts, from stunning coastlines to European Capital of Culture 2020. The benefits of close co-operation between the two planning teams were evident as the County planners showcased their work on the County Development Plan, Garraun Urban Framework, Galway Airport, Galway City Ring Road and a renewable energy strategy.

Galway is an attractive, buoyant, vibrant place and Ireland's fastest growing city - a concentration of international bioscience and medi-tech firms linked to the University, combined with the city’s natural heritage and culture, play a key part in this. Work is underway on the next Development Plan.

Thank you all.


20 November

To mark the end of a week of celebrations across the English regions, I was delighted to catch up with some of the judges of the RTPI’s Regional Awards for Planning Excellence 2020.

Judges Sue Percy CBE, Alyn Nicholls, Timothy David Crawshaw and Stephanie Eastwood shared experiences and reflections on this year's entries, explaining what they were looking for, what made winners stand out and what is special about a Young Planner of the Year.

They were clear that the Awards are planning awards - they are not about what a project looks like but are focused on how planners have used their skills and expertise to overcome challenges and secure great outcomes from a planning perspective. Entries do not need to be large scale, high profile developments - smaller schemes and policy projects are equally welcome. It was clear they had all been inspired by the judging process and were extremely proud of the amazing work undertaken by planners.

Asked for some 'top tips' for those considering entering for future awards, they were agreed on the importance of telling an 'evidence-based' story, setting out the challenges and how they had been overcome, identifying the role of planners, addressing each of the criteria and not submitting the project too early.

There is still time to enter the RTPI National Awards for Planning Excellence 2021 - but before you do, be sure to listen to the advice of our judges!


21 November

At the Changan Forum hosted by the Urban Planning Society of China (China's professional planning institute), Wei gave a 45-minute keynote speech. To tackle all the challenges facing us, we must think globally and act locally. In her speech, Wei talked about the responsibilities of 21st century town planners in a global context.

The speech will be published by the Urban Planning Society of China and circulated to all its members.


23–25 November

Ian Tant, Immediate Past President of the RTPI, attended the biennial Business Meeting of the Commonwealth Association of Planners (CAP), of which he is Vice President.

During the five and a half hours of discussion, a new CAP President was elected, Eleanor Mohammed, former President of the Canadian Institute of Planners and a good friend of the RTPI.

Congratulations to Eleanor.

Attendees at the meeting included representatives from New Zealand, Australia, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, India, Malta, Nigeria, Ghana, Barbados and Canada, as well as the Commonwealth Women in Planning Network and the Commonwealth Young Planners Network, led by the RTPI’s Olafiyin Taiwo. The range of involvement from around the globe demonstrates the importance to the RTPI of its membership of CAP – and we should remember that because of this, each member of the RTPI is also a CAP member.

A number of significant actions were identified to be carried forward by the CAP Executive Committee (of which Ian is a part). These include a review of the CAP strategy and structure, a review of its constitution, finalisation of a budget for 2021, and confirmation of the process and timing for selecting a new Secretary General, following which Clive Harridge (a former RTPI President) will stand down after 10 years in the role.

The meeting also took time to celebrate the work of outgoing President Dyan Currie, who has been an exceptional ambassador for planning across the globe, working closely with RTPI Presidents and Chief Executives since 2014 and carrying us all closer into the work of the UN, UN Habitat and Commonwealth governments. A book of messages has been printed containing congratulatory comments from around the world including contributions from Victoria Hills, a number of Past Presidents and myself. This was presented virtually (and will follow in the post) along with real flowers, delivered via Dy’s husband Kevin.

Our thanks to Dy for all she has done for planning and planners in her busy time in office.


25 November

The 10th annual Nathaniel Lichfield lecture, the first to take place virtually, was an incredible success. With 500 participants (numbers were limited by bandwidth) there was no doubt that moving to an online format had enabled many who would not otherwise have been able to attend in person, to do so.

These lectures were made possible by a generous endowment from Nathaniel Lichfield's widow Dalia Lichfield and I know just how much she and colleagues across the profession enjoy them – as numbers testify.

The 2020 Nathaniel Lichfield lecture focused on health and wellbeing. There is no doubt that that the quality of our places and spaces affects our health and wellbeing.

Planning is for and about people, the places they live in and the spaces that they use. To quote from the Building Better Building Beautiful Commission Report Living with Beauty published earlier this year, ‘caring about people means caring about place, as up to 40 per cent of our personal health outcomes are a function of where we live, not who we are’.

Many healthy design measures are features of good design which not only benefit people’s health and wellbeing, but also create better places with higher commercial value and lower environmental impact. It makes sense all round and there is no one better placed to talk about this than Prof Georgia Watson, Professor in Urban Design at the School of the Built Environment at Oxford Brookes University.

Georgia’s lecture discussed how planners, urban designers and others have contributed to the shaping of healthy places at different scales and the way they have benefitted their local communities. Drawing on examples of good practice and lessons learned from the Healthy New Towns programme that delivered a holistic partnership working across different professional groups, Georgia shared her thoughts on the roles of urban professionals in delivering healthy places both through her presentation and in her response to audience questions.

It really was a very special and inspiring lecture.


27 November

In his role as RTPI Climate Action Champion, Ian attended the eighth meeting of the Construction Industry Council (CIC) Climate Change Panel. The Panel is working to coordinate actions on climate change across 27 institutes in the built environment, including the RTPI, RICS, RIBA, Landscape Institute, CIHT and a number of the more technical institutes involved in construction activity.

The aim is to produce an action plan for CIC that can be shared with all its members in order to drive forward the net-zero carbon agenda in building construction and maintenance (with a growing emphasis on embedded carbon as well as the use of carbon in the building and use of new developments). Working within the Panel is an important part of the RTPI’s actions to collaborate with its fellow institutes.