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RTPI President Wei Yang: The first 100 days in office

30 April 2021

by RTPI President Wei Yang FRTPI

The planning profession gathered yesterday to celebrate the RTPI Awards for Planning Excellence 2021. Many congratulations from the RTPI Presidential Team to all the winners and commended entries.

I am particularly delighted that we were able to celebrate the planning heroes of the pandemic in the 2021 Awards. Over the extraordinary time of the past year, our profession has demonstrated more than ever that planning and qualified planners are essential to deliver the place-based solutions to so many of the issues we are facing today.

The planning profession has kept going - we reacted quickly to the lockdown in so many ways, and we are now actively looking to the future to ensure a greener and healthier recovery. Also, the lockdown has not stopped the RTPI from supporting its members and continuing to deliver imaginative and new projects through the Corporate Strategy.

29 April was also the 100th day since the RTPI Presidential Inauguration. The Presidential Team have been busy promoting the planning profession and the RTPI as ambassadors, albeit virtually for the time being – it enables us to increase our reach far beyond the norm.

International outreach

The launch of the RTPI International Strategy 2021-2030 on 15 March was another step forward in delivering the RTPI’s ambitious goals over the rest of this decade as a leading global professional body.

The launch event was a perfect reflection of the RTPI’s worldwide membership. It was remarkable to have members from Australia, Hong Kong, the UAE, South Africa and Barbados joining me in London to talk about the importance of the planning profession and how they would like to contribute and be supported by the Institute.

In the last 100 days, international engagements with our global partners have been highly active. Dy Currie, the Immediate Past President of the Commonwealth Association of Planners and Past President of the Planning Institute of Australia has become our first-ever international Chair of Judges for the RTPI Awards for Planning Excellence. I had the privilege to choose the Sliver Jubilee Cup Winner with Dy. A thoroughly enjoyable experience.

On behalf of the RTPI, I also joined the UN Habitat’s launch of the Cities and Pandemics Report; spoke at the UK Built Environment Advisory Group’s Global Future Cities programme; recorded greetings for events hosted by our international sister organisations; attended Global Planners Network (GPN) meetings with Chief Executive Victoria Hills; and represented the GPN at UN Habitat Professional Forum meetings.


Young people

One of my favourite parts of the RTPI presidency is speaking with young people. It feels like a sunny spring morning - full of hope and delight.

During the last 100 days, I have spoken with local students in Richmond and Wandsworth and given talks to students from Birmingham University, Birmingham City University and University College Cork. This is how a student summarised our discussion on LinkedIn:

my take home message: Planners are the key driving force to tackling society's biggest issues!

I couldn't be happier to see that.

Another privilege as the President is to choose the winners of the RTPI World Town Planning Day student competition. One entrant, just 12 years old, wrote of her visions for the future:

in 10 years’ time, I want to see where I live becomes a green, environmentally-friendly and more sustainable area. I have planned it to be one big community with lots of wildlife and communal areas that encourage people to get out and meet other residents. I think it is very important that we regenerate the areas we live in - starting now, so that they adapt and grow sustainably in the future.

The competition is an excellent way of introducing the planning profession to schoolchildren. I was impressed and touched by the students’ long-term vision and innovative ideas. I hope all the young people who entered the competition will continue to think deeply about these issues and consider being visionary planners of the future.


Trees and the natural environment

‘We plant trees for our future generations to enjoy’ is an old Chinese saying which I think is more telling than ever before. I am delighted that in my Presidential year I am able to get people aware of the role of planners in creating harmony for people and nature.

The Tree Survey I launched in January revealed that ‘96% of planners think trees are very important in their work’.  Following the survey, I launched the RTPI #ReTreeFit campaign, which argued that the contribution of planners will be crucial if trees are to be placed successfully into existing schemes. The campaign gained great support from our members as well as many environmental specialists from other professional bodies.

My first presidential visit was to the new forest in Northumberland. The virtual visit, hosted by the North East region on 18 March, was a perfect interpretation of the theme of this year’s UN International Day of Forests Forest restoration: a path to recovery and well-being.

The visit explored what planners can do to support the restoration and management of forests for sustainable development, fostering an economic activity that creates jobs and improves lives.

To support my focus on trees and natural environment, the Institute has planted trees in the National Forest, dedicated to the competition winners of the World Town Planning Day schools' competition for 2020. The RTPI will also gift the opportunity to plant trees to each of our national awards winners. I hope our regions can do the same for the RTPI regional awards, as I believe the trees will benefit our future generations as our planning profession does.


To mark our first 100 days together in the Presidential Team, I also invited Vice President Timothy Crawshaw and Immediate Past President Sue Manns to share their thoughts

Timothy Crawshaw

The first 100 days have been strangely eventful as we grapple with losses and slowly gain more freedoms. The positivity and passion of Wei’s inauguration speech has powered me on through the first dark months as we finally head into springtime and hopefully more normal times.

The re-emphasis of the importance of the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the need to tackle both the climate and ecological emergencies sets the scene for the urgent work ahead of us as a profession.

Getting to know the role of being a Trustee has been a fascinating learning experience, revealing both the power of our volunteers in the Nations and Regions and the fantastic support that RTPI officers provide locally and nationally.

I greatly look forward next year to meeting our members in person, but already interactions with colleagues in the Nations and Regions have been insightful and inspiring – these have included a discussion regarding the RTPI Research Strategy Consultation with the RTPI Cymru Policy & Research Forum which was really informative and a great chance to share knowledge and experience. Thanks to the Cymru team for hosting me.

Perhaps one of the highlights of my year to date has been an event with Wei Yang and Jane Findlay of the Landscape Institute about trees and their importance in making cities liveable.

The conversation was stimulating and informative and also great fun. The partnership of the RTPI and the Landscape Institute was great to see, and I hope this is the start of something that will continue into the future.


Sue Manns

Equality, Diversity and Inclusivity - both within the planning profession and in the way that we engage with communities - were at the heart of my Presidency in 2020 and in my year as Immediate Past President this has continued to be my focus.

On 18 February, I was joined by Priya Shah and Noha Nasser at a RTPI West Midlands CPD seminar which explored how to enable effective and meaningful engagement in planning.  With approaching 200 attendees, it is clear just how important this subject is to the profession.

On 1 March, to mark the passage of the 12 months since I launched the RTPI’s first EDI action plan CHANGE, at a special webinar with Charlotte Morphet (Women in Planning), Helen Fadipe (BAME Planners Network), Jennifer Offord (Neurodiversity in Planning Network) and Neil Smith (Inclusive Design Lead, HS2). We shared thoughts and experiences, along with practical information, advice, tips and knowledge to help planners make a difference in their own organisations.

To mark International Women’s Day on 8 March, I joined Dr Louise Brooke Smith and Professor Janice Morphet at a key event organised by Birmingham City University. This lively session focused on Inclusivity in the Planning Profession and was also part of the STEM week.

As part of their Our Future City Plan engagement, Birmingham City Council hosted a range of webinars to discuss its vision for Central Birmingham in relation to current social, environmental and economic challenges. On 9 March, I was a speaker for the webinar focusing on Creating Equitable Cities.

These webinars provided a lively and different way of approaching and thinking about key engagement topics and aimed to inspire local people to get involved and share their thoughts.

On 1 April, as part of World Autism Awareness Week 2021, I chaired the first of two webinars focused on designing for neurodiversity. Leading speakers on the topic from around the world came together to share their research and practical experiences of designing autism-friendly environments. Following the recording, transcripts were added to the webinar to improve accessibility and it was broadcast live on 15 April.

A report will be launched soon to report back to members on the progress that the RTPI has made in delivering the actions set out in CHANGE. We all know that simply having a plan is not enough and that we also need to deliver on our commitments - as this report will demonstrate, whilst there is still a long way to go, we have started to do just that.


I hope this update gives you a flavour of what the RTPI Presidential Team has been up to in the last 100 days. I am really grateful for the excellent support from Timothy and Sue, as well as from RTPI members and our dedicated staff. It has reinforced my belief that a modernised planning profession is a profession for hope and for the future. It is faith in our ability to act together!