A new network dedicated to the sharing of best practice between planners and politicians of all levels was launched this week by the RTPI.
The inaugural event, held in association with Cratus, was launched by Jackie Weaver and included debates on the value of local democracy, the impact that both Covid-19 and improved technology has had on community engagement and how there needs to be a shift from simple numbers when it comes to housing.
An insightful panel debate with representatives from all of the home nations showed the value of local and national politicians sharing their experience and expertise across local authority and national boundaries to ensure that planners and politicians could work together to provide the best outcomes for their communities.
Introducing the speakers, RTPI Chair of the Board of Trustees Sue Bridge spoke of the importance of the new network in helping to bridge the divide between politicians and planners, especially crucial in the recovery from the pandemic.
Lockdown internet star and local council veteran Jackie Weaver gave the keynote address, reflecting on how the pandemic has highlighted the value of local democracy. Technology, she argued, has given new life to community engagement and virtual meetings should be extended. Local council and community work that often went overlooked had renewed interest during the pandemic, with a new willingness to utilize and highlight local councils as a crucial resource.
Jackie addressed the more contentious areas of planning and local politics, arguing that there has been a shift—aided by neighbourhood planning—to local politicians seeking to influence development for the good of communities, rather than campaign to block it. However, Jackie believed the continued under-resourcing of planning departments remained an issue and was a factor limiting community involvement in the process.
Professional planners worked with a goal of benefiting the wider public and politicians bring their understanding of the community and wider priorities, so Jackie argued “the network will be very important in bringing both together.” “Planning for local communities should be a partnership, and if I can help that partnership then I am happy to do so.”
Julian Seymour, managing director of planning communications at Cratus, opened the panel discussion with a question on the politics of planning to Cllr David Simmonds CBE MP. Coming from both a national and local perspective, David argued that the “how” of housing was at the core of the politics. National politics focuses heavily on numbers over types of units, with a shift needed in the debate to address the types of homes people need.
Cllr Caro Wild gave a Welsh perspective, highlighting the crucial importance of a robust legal and technical framework to planning. Cllr Linda Haysey from East Herts argued that political leadership is crucial to the system, with politicians needing to reflect the views of communities, consider future generations, as well as provide the direction to push plans along.
Cllr Anna Richardson from Glasgow City Council led with sustainability, with planning essential to “steering the ship” in the right direction. Planning, she argued, shapes her city and therefore influences the decisions people make every day. Cllr Angeliki Stogia from Manchester focused on the impact of planning on quality of life, and the power of the process to create healthy and sustainable places.
Turning to the issues planners face in the process, Caro argued that a lack of public understanding of the profession and the system was at the core of many of the issues faced. Similarly, Anna highlighted the need to both meet the community where they are in their worries about the impact of development on services, while also considering the long-term needs of the community. For Linda, Permitted Development Rights (PDRs), disputes with PINS and a lack of strategic planning all pose difficulties, while Angeliki highlighted the difficulties in ensuring adequate levels of transport, affordability and standards.
The event was closed by Nick Kilby of Cratus, who thanked Jackie and the councillors for sharing their passion for local government. The new network, he hoped, could ensure better understanding between councillors and planners.