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A life in a year: 2017 President looks back at his term

05 February 2018 Author: Stephen Wilkinson

My Presidential Year was dominated by three major issues which will continue to shape the profession.

Brexit and the outcome of how we exit from the EU will shape the UK for the next 30-40 years. It will be the touchstone for future debate on all areas of environmental and planning policy. It is important that the Institute is fully engaged in every aspect of what Brexit means for the UK in support of our members and their interests.

This is particularly important because the UK’s high professional, ethical and environmental standards enable our environmental consultancies to compete successfully for overseas work whose value to the UK is around £200m. This is a global market which is set to grow considerably.

I am a firm believer that planning as an aspect of social policy has its roots in social justice and that if we lose sight of this we lose our moral purpose.

Secondly, housing. The Government’s Housing White Paper is a candid assessment of where we are. The Government deserves credit for being so honest in identifying issues beyond the planning system and setting out a framework for addressing them.

But the real issue here is ‘affordability’. House prices will not be cheaper simply through increasing the supply of market housing, given the complex dynamics of the market. In a global economy with international finance seeking maximum profit irrespective of national and local priorities, planners play a crucial to ensure that new investment of whatever source addresses the real needs and issues of our communities.

Thirdly, the election. The result meant that with a minority government in office we don’t necessarily have a government in power, resulting in caution and prevarication which affects those major decisions we want on infrastructure to support investment and growth. As planners, we must continue to voice our concerns to ensure that the right investment is made to secure the UKs future.

I also learned more of our profession’s diversity. My first visit was to a parliamentary reception of Planning Out. It is clear to me that as a body serving a diverse population, our membership must reflect that population and feel supported in its work by the Institute.

Our members are engaged in a great diversity of work and in 2017 I gained a full understanding of the breadth and scope of the work of planners across the UK and abroad.

I am a firm believer that planning as an aspect of social policy has its roots in social justice and that if we lose sight of this we lose our moral purpose. I wanted my Presidential visits to take me to places where planners make the difference in effecting change to create the conditions for new investment and growth, and I was not disappointed!

Here are some highlights:

 BatterseaBattersea Power Station Development - A new community is in the making – 4,000 new homes, shops, employment of around 2,000 new jobs, and an extension to the Northern Line.









Accrington, Lancashire - The Council is bringing in new investment and reshaping the town centre with a new bus centre and an impressive housing renewal programme.



HullHull, City of Culture - The Festival Director Martin Green, his team and planning officers from the council brought about a remarkable transformation. Restoration of civic spaces, historic buildings and the public realm created the venues across the city where residents share and mix with a welcome influx of visitors.

New YorkNew York – An interesting visit to attend the American Planning Association conference made me think how far ahead the UK is in delivering sustainable development. I also reflected on why the UK’s planning system is more flexible and adaptable  than one where decisions are informed by complex zoning codes. 

 NewcastleNewcastle -  A great northern city and from here I visited Gateshead and South Shields looking at housing renewal and ‘The Word’, a great example of cultural regeneration. If the Northern Powerhouse is to have any resonance, we should think of the ‘north’ as a region of cities. Only through this perspective will we be able to deliver the paradigm shift to ensure it can successfully compete with London and the South East.



MargateMargate – A place where the planners have the drive to turn ‘dreams in to realities’. Rather than letting the former pleasure park, Dreamland, stand idle in the town centre, planners used every tool in their armoury to turn the place around, creating a new destination to support economic regeneration of the seafront.





LondonderryLondonderry, winner of N. Ireland best places competition - There are few places in the UK where history and context resonate so strongly as Northern Ireland and in particular this city. A place which during the lives of many of us has been one of despair and sectarianism.

RTPI’s NI office, local authority and stakeholders have worked tirelessly to forge a different place, turning the symbols of division into ones of reconciliation and healing. This work could only be led by members of this profession who understand communities and believe in the power of planning to transform and build a better place.

For all of these reasons it has been an honour to serve as President. 

Stephen Wilkinson

Stephen Wilkinson

Stephen Wilkinson MRTPI was President of the RTPI for 2017. Stephen is a Chartered town planner with considerable experience in planning and regeneration. He has worked for four London Boroughs and for the Audit Commission where he advised planning authorities on their management arrangements. He currently works for the Lee Valley Regional Park Authority and sits on several regeneration boards.