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Victoria Hills: Amidst the rush of party conferences, planning takes centre stage in UK politics

Would it be too bold to call the upcoming general election the Planning Election? Certainly, as I left Liverpool to begin my train ride back to London, processing the events of the two conferences, the idea didn’t feel too far a stretch.

It felt that ‘planning’ was the word on everyone’s lips, with both Conservative and Labour placing the profession at the heart of their conferences. However, as I pointed out to the Financial Times’ Natalie Thomas for her piece ‘The UK’s bunged-up planning system won’t be easy to unblock’, a quarter of planners left the public sector between 2013 and 2020, and any government would have to resource the Local Planning Authorities if they want to achieve serious momentum with planning.

Although the RTPI cannot take all the credit for the current prominence of planning in political discussions, I firmly believe that the hard work put in by the RTPI team during the conferences has been instrumental in driving the conversation forward.

The RTPI’s Planifesto 2024 provided the backbone for this work. Outlining our vision for how the government should collaborate with planners to create communities that can flourish and thrive, the Planifesto identifies key areas where political parties should commit to action, from funding high-quality planning services to working with local leaders. Wherever we went, the RTPI team and I ensured that our Planifesto was at the forefront of discussion.

We received support from Rachel Maclean, Minister of State for Housing and Planning, at the Conservative Party conference and from Shadow Minister for Housing and Planning, Matthew Pennycook MP, at the Labour Party conference. Both held signs outlining our Planifesto pledge to better fund planning services.

We strongly believe that political parties can work collaboratively with planners, not against us, to ensure that the planning system delivers for everyone.

I attended the Conservative Party conference with RTPI President Sue Bridge, hosting meetings with MPs and speaking at various events and roundtables. Our presence allowed us to speak with parliamentarians and colleagues from across our sector to ask: How will this Conservative government’s ‘long-term plan for housing’ play out in the short term and will emerging planning reforms help to turn our housing crisis around?

The Labour Party conference, which I attended with RTPI Vice President Lindsey Richards, gave the RTPI the opportunity to champion the profile of and promote the importance of planning to the public and politicians. Proposals made by the Labour Party have made housing and planning a key battleground for the next election. At the conference, we wanted to find out whether these commitments would result in sufficient new homes of the right types and in the right places and ask whether the local and strategic potential of our planning system would be realised under a Labour government.

But, while there has been consistent discussion around planning at the party conferences, not all of it has been positive. Calls to "bulldoze through" the planning system in England bring to the forefront the need for us to continue to work with political parties across the UK to reinforce the point that a well recoured planning system can be the jewel in the crown of levelling-up. We strongly believe that political parties can work collaboratively with planners, not against us, to ensure that the planning system delivers for everyone.

Our team of public affairs and policy experts will soon be providing a comprehensive analysis of the discussions that took place at the conferences and how they could impact our profession. I strongly encourage you to look out for them.

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