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RTPI ICN conference 2019 report

By Deirdre Wells, Chair of the Independent Consultants' Network

The Independent Consultants’ Network has expanded to more than 800 members, the majority of whom work alone. The annual ICN conference is designed to promote networking within the group, increase learning and provide an opportunity for intensive discussion about current planning issues.

Network members have a very strong commitment to sharing experience and skills in a generous manner. The constant hubbub of delegates using the occasion to make friends and debate during breakout sessions (rather than checking phones) was commented on by visiting speakers and the RTPI President Ian Tant.

The Waterside Centre in Bristol harbour side provided an excellent venue and a fine location for starting a guided walk organised by officers of Bristol City Council planning department. The area displayed the results of regeneration over several decades and a basis for a mutually useful private/public sector discussion for professional planners.

Key speakers addressed climate justice (Daniel Slade RTPI Research Officer), recent developments in planning law and precedents (Richard Humphries QC). There was also  a very open ‘in discussion’ session with Graham Stallwood of The Planning Inspectorate. In the latter, delegates reported concerns about the quality of appeal decisions and the recent introduction of Appeal Planning Officers reporting to Inspectors, suggesting improvements to the process.  The dialogue will continue, in parallel with the programme of improvements already adopted by PINS.

By popular demand, some of our recognised in-house experts ran workshop sessions on topics which feature regularly in the wide range of work members undertake. In addition, a discussion on balancing the Development Plan against material considerations was led by Megan Thomas of 6 Pump Court – a complex issue which features heavily in appeal cases.

Feedback from all those who joined the evening reception was that it was an exceptionally useful opportunity to improve the close networking that continues throughout the year via the ICF email forum – putting faces to names and developing strong professional contacts. Several greetings started ‘You are my hero…’, for help given in the past. Our enormous thanks to our generous sponsors The Planning Portal and 6 Pump Court Chambers.

Conference said goodbye to the RTPI Network manager Max Tolley as he moves to a new post within the RTPI after a year of being a huge support to the ICN, and welcome to his replacement Jenny Divine. As an innovation, the chair organised a collection for a small local charity helping the homeless in Bristol, which was very gratefully received.

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