Tim Crawshaw, RTPI President June 2022 - Our Friends in the North East
The North East Region has a special place in my heart for two reasons. One, I was born in the North East and grew up there through the economic restructuring of the last 40 years and have a passion for the places and the people and secondly the RTPI North East Region was the beginning of my journey into becoming a Chartered Town Planner and ultimately the President. I could not have done this without the support of colleagues and the encouragement of regionally based mentors who themselves exemplified the professional qualities that I aspire to – you know who you are and thank you.
It was my pleasure and privilege to join the North East Regional Chair and Regional Coordinator Kim Walker on a tour of my old stamping ground in search of learning and best practice and insights from Members working to make the region a better place for generations to come. The variety of projects and initiatives was testament to the varied nature of the region that cannot be simply defined by perceptions and the Levelling Up narrative.
Day 1 – Innovation, Transformation and Vision
The day started in Middlesbrough where me met Paul Clarke, Chief Planning Officer, who told us about their approach to design, bringing in new talent to the profession and the thorny issue of nutrient neutrality. What struck me was Paul’s dogged determination to find solutions what can appear to be intractable problems and a can-do attitude to securing better outcomes, particularly in terms of design. For a small authority punching well above its weight we heard about holding the line on design and building a track record of cases that have been the subject of positive Appeal decisions. Not deterred by circumstances Paul is engendering an innovative culture where evidence of the actual population figures relating to new housing are being used to challenge the moratorium on housebuilding and making the most of opportunities to reward recently qualified apprentices to retain much needed staff. Outstanding work Paul!
Onwards to Stockton we visited the Sycamores development by Keepmoat Homes. A challenging edge of centre site with a plethora of services and constraints was the starting point for a scheme that has retained many of the existing trees on site creating a mature feel on site from day 1. I was pleased to meet Rebecca Blythe Land and Partnerships Graduate Trainee who confidently described the scheme and then went on to share some self-guided research into the application of the UN Sustainable Development Goals to the work of Keepmoat Homes. I would encourage Rebecca to join the RTPI as I saw a future Chartered Planner in the making.
Thanks to the Team at Keepmoat for the tour.
The day ended with a visit to the City Hall in Sunderland. Meeting with the team – Rachel Thompson of Cundall and Anthony Jukes of Sunderland City Council we heard about the transformation of the city in recent years. With too much good practice to list here the standouts were the clear and rational plan that underpins the regeneration with a clear strategy for delivery and easy to understand plot structures providing the framework for the buildings to take root; a strong heritage component with the subtle use of public art to reconnect the city to maritime and shipbuilding heritage and a bold and ambitious programme of infrastructure both green and in terms of active travel and connectivity.
The evening was delightful, we joined young planners Rachel Dodd - Senior Planner, Lichfields and Emma Callaghan – Planner, Lichfields for a great evening of food and conversation, pleased to see Paul again and joined by Sarah Woodford of the RTPI. Thanks to Kim and Mark for a great first day and hosting a convivial evening.
Day 2 – Older Peoples Housing, Urban Rooms and SME Developers
The second day started at Newcastle University with a fantastic presentation from Rose Gilroy who shared the innovations taking place in older peoples housing at the Newcastle Helix. It was fantastic to see the role of academia in the ‘quadruple helix’ of the private sector, local government, the third sector and communities developing new models for the future. The path to innovation is always bumpy and it was fantastic to see this manifesting itself into a new exemplar development soon.
The role of academia in the life of the city was further emphasised by the work described by Owen Hopkins in establishing the Farrell Centre in Newcastle as an ‘urban room’ and centre for discussions about the future of the city. Making fantastic use of an existing historic building the opportunity to create a new forum for debate and imagination was inspiring.
The day closed out with a visit to Altoria Developments who are providing older peoples housing as a new SME highlighting the challenges for this sector and who haveshown resilience and a commitment to a locally recognised quality product responding to local demand.
This trip to the North East revealed the diversity of planning activity in the region. We met some inspirational people who are working hard to make the region a better place and the Awards for Planning Excellence that took place on Friday were testament to this. The North East Region should be rightly proud of its professional planners and a thriving scene. I saw ambition, experience and vision played out on the ground, with RTPI Planners at the centre making a difference.
Thanks to Kim Walker for coordinating the visit and NE Chair for a warm welcome. I thoroughly enjoyed by visit.