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One month in office: An update from RTPI President 2021 Wei Yang FRTPI

20 January 2021 was a special day for inaugurations!

On that day, the RTPI President for 2020 Sue Manns handed over the chain of office to me. I was honoured to be inaugurated as the 107th President of the RTPI.

It wasn’t only the 46th US President Joe Biden’s inauguration that received the world’s attention - the RTPI’s Presidential inauguration ceremony was watched globally by RTPI members and others with an interest in planning, including Presidents and representatives from some of the world’s leading planning bodies.

In Sue’s valedictory speech, she highlighted that 2020 - a year like no other - was undoubtedly a year of many achievements for the RTPI. For the first time in history, our membership reached over 26,000. Sue said: ‘As the pandemic started to impact on our lives, the planning profession showed itself to innovative, resilient and adaptable’.

Sue also announced the joint winners of the 2020 President’s Award - Women in Planning co-founders Charlotte Morphet and Alison Mackay, BAME Planners Network founder Helen Fadipe, and Neurodiversity in Planning Network co-founders Jennifer Offord, Atefeh Motamedi, Keeley Mitchell, Layla Vidal-Martin and Sarah Zengeya. Many congratulations to the winners!

Once again, I would like to thank Sue for her dedication as RTPI President for 2020, as well as her role as the Board Champion on Equality, Diversity and Inclusivity (EDI).

In my inauguration speech, I called for a revival of spirit and for a modernised planning profession to proactively address the challenges of the 21st century.

I received many generous best wishes and warm congratulations, which reinforced my belief that joining the RTPI is not only about getting a professional qualification for our own careers, more importantly it is also about acting together through the Institute to make stronger professional impacts for the benefit of the public.

With no time wasted, straight after the inauguration, I chaired the afternoon session of the RTPI General Assembly and officially welcomed our new Vice President Timothy Crawshaw.

Timothy gave a brief overview of his background and shared his vision with GA members. Having worked both in the private and public sector, Timothy’s work covers a wide international scope with experience in Europe and Africa. Based on his professional and life experience, Timothy highlighted his interests in tackling climate change and inequalities, and promoting health and wellbeing. He also emphasised the needs of a strong public sector with shared standards and values within the profession. Planning needs to be at the front and centre of policy and practice in the recovery following the pandemic.

During the afternoon, I chaired a visionary workshop on the Future of the Planning Profession, which will be the theme of the GA for 2021. A series of debates and discussions will be conducted during the year. I will write a themed blog later.

Other highlights of the month

Though new in the office, my diary was busy from day one.

On 21 January, together with Chief Executive Victoria Hills and Vice President Timothy Crawshaw, I met the President and CEO of the Landscape Institute. Some exciting collaboration opportunities were discussed - watch this space for further news.

On the same day, I also launched the first speed survey for RTPI members on trees. The full result will be published soon. For me, one of the most amazing responses was a poem from a Scottish member.

My inauguration attracted a lot of media attention. I took several interviews during the month, ranging from European media to BBC Chinese and a Shanghai evening newspaper, one of the oldest newspapers in China. Most of the journalists who interviewed me admitted that they knew little about the planning profession. Taking the opportunity, I gave them a full introduction to the RTPI, the role of town planners, and the importance of protecting public interests in our work. I hope one day town planners and the RTPI will become household names.

During the month, I also spoke at many internal and external events, including an event organised by the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland (RIAS) and a TCPA seminar entitled ‘The Forgotten Pioneers - Women in the Garden City Movement’.

Have We Got Planning News for You

For a light-hearted take on the world of planning and the latest in topical planning case law, on 4 February I joined the popular planning ‘talk show’ - Have We Got Planning News for You.

Initiated in the first COVID-19 lockdown, Charlie Banner QC, Mary Cook, Paul Tucker QC, Sasha White QC & Chris Young QC came together to raise money for the NHS and have a debate about planning matters.

It was a thoroughly enjoyable experience for me. I was first of all very impressed by how efficient the event was organised.  Each QC has a different task to do, excellent collaboration! Also, what an innovative idea to raise the profile of planning by discussing serious matters in a light-hearted way.

During my interview with Paul Tucker QC, I shared the three words I associate most with planning - compassion, selflessness, and creativity. The first two are the moral foundations of the planning profession, the last is the nature of the planning profession – no single place and people are the same in the world, our work is highly creative.

BAME Planners Network

As the first RTPI President from an ethnic minority background in the UK, I was delighted to be invited to be the guest speaker at a BAME Planners Network event, Diversity in Leadership Positions: Addressing the Imbalance, on 8 February. Ransford Stewart MRTPI interviewed me and Judith Onuh MRTPI moderated the Q&A session.

I shared my personal career journey, as well as my views on how the planning profession can be modernised in times of global challenges and be representative of the diverse communities that we serve.

Leadership is about doing, rather than position. We need to cultivate diverse thought leadership in our profession. From the bottom of my heart, I told the audience that ‘there is no age and gender difference in our spirit, no race difference in our soul. If we believe in ourselves, our vision and our effort, we can all make a lasting difference for good’. The set-up of Women in Planning, BAME Planners Network, and Neurodiversity in Planning Network are perfect examples of leadership.

To my surprise, at the end of the event, a congratulation video was played. It was secretly recorded by friends and colleagues and was put together by the highly innovative BAME Planners Network Events Committee. I was really touched by it! Thank you to everyone contributed!

School Work Experience Week

One of my wishes as the RTPI President is that one day planning history and town planning principles can be taught in schools.

During the school half term, Richmond and Wandsworth Councils’ planning teams hosted the RTPI’s pilot Environment and Community Services virtual work experience for a group of 16 local students from diverse backgrounds. Students were divided into four groups and worked with their mentors on individual challenges based on their specialism.

I was delighted to join the review panel on the last day and I was inspired by the students when they gave presentations on land use, design, access and sustainability. One student said, 'we put sustainability as our first priority rather than profit’. What a simple but bold message from our future generations!

I also used the opportunity to introduce the RTPI and the planning profession to the students. I look forward to welcoming them to be town planners of the future.

RTPI Awards 2021

On 15 February, I was delighted to announce the finalists for this year’s RTPI Awards for Planning Excellence.

For over 40 years, these prestigious awards have celebrated the exceptional work undertaken by town planners. In the middle of a global pandemic, the awards are more relevant than ever to showcase the contributions of town planners both in the UK and internationally.

This year a new category, ‘Planning Heroes in a Pandemic’, has been created to recognise planners’ commitment during this difficult time.

I wish all the finalists the very best of luck at the Awards ceremony on 29 April 2021!