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A New Year letter from Victoria Hills

As another year gets underway, many of us will be happy to put 2021 behind us. Though times have been tough for everyone, I am thankful to say that our organisation has been able to stay strong despite the Covid-19 pandemic, and it is my hope that 2022 will offer the same progress.

January is the time of year for resolutions, but at the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI), we believe that resolutions start in December, or earlier still. That’s why, as last year rounded to a close, I reached out to Secretary of State Michael Gove to discuss a link that I believe will become increasingly important as 2022 progresses – the common ground between town planners and the Government.

Nowhere is this link clearer than in last year’s ‘Plan the World We Need’ campaign, which called on governments across the UK and Ireland to capitalise on the expertise of planners to achieve a sustainable, resilient and inclusive recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

We believe that this campaign can come together with the Government’s Planning for the Future campaign, but only if the Government understands the vital role planners have in every aspect of the recovery in order to revive the economy, tackle inequality and meet net-zero targets by 2050.

But there is a lot of work to be done this year if we are to see that change. We’ve seen clear imbalance of funding in the planning sector, which only works to deepen regional inequality by providing greater finance in well-off areas while hitting other areas with poor health and social outcomes. Funding for planners will need to be a priority across the nation if the Government is to achieve its Levelling Up agenda.

To help meet this need, we called for a £500 million Planning Delivery Fund over the next four years in our Comprehensive Spending Review submission, which was backed by the LUHC Select Committee. We have already seen a generous £65m for digital and design from the Government, but  to help us to have the greatest impact across the nation, to fully realise the Levelling Up plan, it is integral that the Government starts to increase funding now.

To help support these goals on the ground, we want 2022 to be the year that Chief Planner Officers are finally given the seat at the top of the table. We know that the Government is already onboard with having Chief Placemakers, but it is our belief that every local authority should have its own Placemaker, equipped with the necessary skills of a chartered town planner to provide leadership and direction.

Scotland is already a model for the efficiency of such roles. With statutory Chief Planner Officers in Scotland demonstrating their ability to look long term, engage with communities, and focus on innovation. We’re hoping to see the same model enacted across every Local Government in the UK.

In early December, reports in the media suggested the new Levelling Up white paper held ambitions of replacing layers of local government with a single-tier system, as in Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland. If enacted, these will provide the platform in Local Government for Chief Planning Officers need to add the much needed strategic dot-joining across planning, infrastructure, health, education, economy and so much more.

Outside of Chief Planning Officers in local authorities, we’re hoping to help communities develop infrastructure upfront through the realisation of the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) hypothecation. We believe that, if properly executed, the CIL hypothecation will make communities happier to accept development.

But this year isn’t just about influencing Government’s policy across the nation. This year, we’re making the RTPI more inclusive and more relevant, to support and grow our members.

We understand the value of attracting a diverse cohort into the fabulous career in town planning, and will be welcoming our first Chartered Town planner apprentices. In 2022, we’re launching our a work experience pilot for underrepresented groups in planning, as well as our YourPlan scheme to help get young people interested. We understand the value of young blood in town planning, and will be welcoming our first Chartered Town planner apprentices. We’re also bringing more events and Masterclasses to help the industry knowledge grow, and will open a members’ lounge in our London office to help bring the RTPI community together.

I want to take this opportunity to thank all our members old and new, and all those who we work collaboratively across the built environment sector and beyond. It is my hope that, together, the Royal Town Planning Institute will build upon its strong foundations to continue to add value for our members, governments and society as a whole. Happy New Year and may your year be a successful one!

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