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Stephen Wilkinson shares his vision as he becomes RTPI President

19 January 2017

Stephen Wilkinson told the audience gathered for his 2017 presidential inauguration last night, “No other profession has the right skill set to deliver the complexity of changes required [to solve humanitiy's shared problems],”. He spoke of how planners’ expertise would help solve many of our shared challenges, the Institute’s work promoting the profession’s impact, the importance of diversity, how social justice threads throughout planning and the role of politicians in the system. Stephen also said he was keen to visit those areas left behind the economic recovery:

“Planners are sometimes the only profession working in these areas to create the right conditions for growth, to stimulate markets and to secure the right infrastructure,” he said.

Steph Wilkinson Inauguration Speech _v2

“Alone amongst the professions involved in the development process planning allows the public a voice on the future shape of their environment. All of you, as planners, are the guardians of this process.  We contribute to the efficient working of local democracies".


He spoke of the diversity of work the Institute is involved in, which reflects planning as a “progressive discipline”.

 “Our work reflects the diversity of needs in the communities we serve and we must achieve a balanced membership who feel supported in their work. So I was particularly pleased with the launch last year of Planning Out.”

Institute's impact

RTPI Presidents Phil Williams Stephen Wilkinson _v2

He applauded the RTPI’s Great North Plan - a spatial framework for the Northern Powerhouse, and the Institute’s work on where new homes should be built. He noted the Institute’s work sharing best practice through Better Planning and regional and national awards for planning excellence. He also acknowledged the time and resources given by volunteers who are the “bedrock of our membership” and the extensive network of Young Planners.

Politicians and planning

Stephen went on to highlight the role of politicians in the planning system:

“The articulation of a vision links to the broader political process – , we share a common language with politicians and just like politics, ‘planning is the art of the possible’ because it can deliver significant change rooted in social justice.

“This reflects the central importance of the profession because we have enormous influence involving resource allocation, making decisions on land, where housing or employment, schools and hospitals and infrastructure goes.”

Social justice

Throughout his speech, Stephen spoke of the “social justice which defines this profession’s moral purpose”. He said this sense of social justice was instilled during the establishment of the ‘modern planning system’ in 1947. Stephen gave the context of its birth reminding the audience of its importance to this day as its celebrates its 70th anniversary:

 “A need to correct the economic and social imbalances experienced in the 1930s lay at the heart of the 1947 system. There was a consensus that firm controls to re-direct new investment were required and that housing and industrial policies alone could not present the answer.

“Planning was seen as the solution to the country’s economic, social and environmental problems.

“Today, 70 years on from the 1947 Act we face enormous challenges of climate change, pollution and a housing crisis and poverty, a challenge of aspiration. These are global challenges requiring the response of planning as a global profession.  We must rise to address them confident in our skills and expertise.”

Watch: Stephen Wilkinson’s 2017 presidential inauguration speech

Stephen Wilkinson was inaugurated as President of the Royal Town Planning Institute in a ceremony yesterday held in central London. He was supported by his family (pictured with him, right), friends and fellow planners.

About Stephen

Stephen is the Head of Planning & Strategic Partnerships at the Lee Valley Regional Park Authority. He has worked for four London Boroughs and for the Audit Commission where he advised planning authorities on their management arrangements. He has over thirty years experience in planning and regeneration and sits on several regeneration boards.

View: Photos from Stephen Wilkinson’s 2017 presidential inauguration