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Guest blog: Local places connect the international planning community

17 November 2015

Richard Summers MRTPI

This year ‘think global, act local’ was taken to a new level with planners and local councillors participating in the biggest global online planning conference ever.

The RTPI International’s mission is to play our part in achieving a more sustainable world through spatial planning and through capacity building particularly in developing countries. Members of our international committee did just that in celebrating the achievements of planners worldwide whilst providing an accessible way for professional planners to undertake Continuing Professional Development in an exciting new way.

So how were they able to attend an international conference without spending a fortune on airfares and hours trawling through Airbnb’s website?

Every year, planning institutes around the world celebrate World Town Planning Day with a global online conference. Participants are able to book a place and listen in via an online link from the comfort of their homes or offices. This year’s theme was Housing Regeneration: Strengthening Communities. Speakers from universities, private practice, councils and the United Nations presented live from their own computers. The aim is share best practice, learn from each other and celebrate our achievements as a profession.

Last week in the quintessentially pretty English town of Bury St Edmunds, Councillor John Griffiths, welcomed a group of planners to the Green Duck conference centre to listen and participate with planners presenting live from India to Iceland.

Richard Summers (RTPI Past President and member of the International Committee) arranged for a link and booked a local venue. This one link enabled 20 local participants to hear talks on housing and regeneration issues including accommodating economic migrants and refugees; tackling social deprivation; planning healthy accommodation and healthy cities; and innovative community participation techniques. They were also able to ask the presenters questions via the website chat box function shown on the conference room screen and to have their own local discussions in the breaks between the online session.

Green Duck Participants

Local planners at the Green Duck listening to the World Town Planning Day Online Conference 

One of their own colleagues presented on what is happening in the east of England and how planners there are helping to deliver more housing and community facilities. Steven Wood, Head of Planning and Growth at West Suffolk Councils, presented live to 300 people worldwide on England’s housing crisis, the challenges of the reformed planning system and how local planners in West Suffolk are tackling these issues.

In summary, developers determine the rate of development from the planning permissions they hold whilst public and voluntary sector house building is restricted by limited funding. This has prompted collaborative working between West Suffolk Councils and Suffolk County Council with the result that a joint Housing Development Company is now driving housing development within the private sector. Delivery is achieved through master planning for strategic sites, land assembly using compulsory purchase where necessary and coordinating the provision of transport and other facilities. Planners there have used their commercial awareness and understanding of land values and the development process to negotiate effectively with developers and land owners to obtain better infrastructure and community facilities within local housing developments.

Other notable local participants included Councillor Hung Chow Chung, Mayor of Bury St Edmunds who highlighted the importance of discussing local and global issues in urban and rural housing development.  Councillor Rona Burt, Chair of the Planning Committee at Forest Heath District Council commented: “The World Town Planning Day discussions were a real eye opener on the many different but also similar issues in planning for housing around the world”. Finally, Peter Geraghty, Chair of the RTPI International Committee, noted the importance of connecting local planners with the global planning community to enable them to learn from each other by sharing international knowledge and best practice.

Green Duck Presenters

Richard Summers, Steven Wood, Hung Chow Chung, Robert Feakes and Dawn Hale

Everyone agreed that the event had been a great success in comparing housing regeneration in the UK with the problems and solutions in other developing and developed countries. It was significant that professional planners and local councillors in the east of England had played an important part in celebrating World Town Planning Day in the UK and around the world.

Green Duck Peter Geraghty

Peter Geraghty, Chair of International Committee

This unique event in a small English town has helped lead the way in sharing international and local best practice; upskilling planners worldwide and celebrating the successes of the global planning community in participative virtual conferencing. 

Read up the RTPI’s other World Town Planning Day celebrations see:


To listen to the conference recordings and read key reports see:

About Richard Summers BA MRTPI

Richard Summers is a Past President of the RTPI (2011) and a Past Chairman of the RTPI International Committee (2012 to 2013). He was Chairman of the RTPI East of England (1991) and is currently a member of the RTPI General Assembly and the RTPI International Committee. He has spoken at numerous international planning conferences around the world in recent years.