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Ian Tant: If the CAP fits…

Ian Tant MRTPI is the UK Vice President of the Commonwealth Association of Planners and Past President of the Royal Town Planning Institute.


As you’re reading this, you will know already about involvement with the RTPI at the national level, through its Board, General Assembly and committees. You will also know about the opportunities at the more local level of our Nations and Regions. But do you know that there’s an international dimension to your opportunities?  

The RTPI has a well-developed International Strategy and maintains close links with a number of international planning organisations, including the European Council of Spatial Planners and the Commonwealth Association of Planners (CAP). All members of the RTPI are automatically members of the CAP, linking some 40,000 professional planners across 30 nations from Pacific island nations in the east to Canada in the west. There are now opportunities for you to volunteer to work with and for CAP.

For the past three years, I have been honoured to represent the RTPI at the biennial meetings of CAP in 2020 and 2022 and on its regular executive meetings. My term of office comes to an end shortly and the RTPI will be looking for a new person to be its representative on CAP. Could this be you?

There’s more: CAP relies on volunteers. Young planners from the UK are already incredibly active in the CAP Young Planners Network and the UK’s Women in Planning network has close links with the Commonwealth Women in Planning. There’s also a CAP Climate Action Working Group which has recently formed and on which UK planners really should be represented.

What have I gained from my involvement in CAP? At the highest level, I’ve been part of the work in promoting the Sustainable Cities Initiative and the associated Call to Action for sustainable urbanisation. Working closely with a number of fellow Commonwealth organisations (including the Commonwealth Association of Architects) and the Princes Foundation, we succeeded in 2022 in securing the Kigali Communiqué in which all Commonwealth governments – including the UK – committed themselves to pursuing sustainable development of our towns and cities.

Over the past few years, CAP has also helped launch the Rapid Planning Toolkit, a direct, practical aid for communities to plan for themselves in places where there is little or no professional planning expertise. And increasingly, CAP has developed a close working relationship with UN Habitat, becoming a recognised partner organisation in 2022.  

At a personal level, however, it’s been a wonderful experience to learn about planning issues across the continents from small island nations to large nations, all facing similar issues in urban growth (Lagos, Nigeria is set to become the world’s largest city in the course of this century) and climate change impacts. I’ve played a leading role in reviewing CAP’s governance structures (now adopted, creating an Assembly on which our representative will sit, and a Board of Trustees – for which there will be an election later in 2023). I’ve become involved in editing a new book – due out in Spring 2023 – describing the 50 year history of CAP and looking forward to the next 50 years of planning in the Commonwealth. Through all of this have come new working relationships and new friendships: my contact book looks a good deal more international than it has at any time in my 40+ year career in planning. 

What should you bring to CAP? Planning expertise and experience is one component but energy and a modicum of time are just as important. The other vital ingredient is humility. The Commonwealth is a grouping of equal nations – it is not a legacy of our colonial past and we must beware appearing to ‘lead’. UK planners have much to contribute but UK planning systems and approaches don’t often translate well into the different climates, cultures and economies of our Commonwealth partners. Here is the chance to learn how valued planning is as a service and how it can best be applied in circumstances very different to those here in the UK. 

So look out for the RTPI’s invitation to stand as its representative on CAP. Later this year there will be a chance to stand for election to the CAP Board. If you’re interested in joining the Climate Action Working Group – or offering involvement in wider CAP activities – for details, go to the CAP website and look for “Sustainability & Climate Action”.

If the CAP fits, wear it!


For more information about RTPI’s international work, please visit: RTPI | International or contract [email protected].

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