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Six things I learnt at the Planning Convention

05 July 2017 Author: Annabel Le Lohé

Don’t judge a talk by its title

The RTPI Planning Convention programme presented an impressive choice of sessions, all linked to the theme ‘Delivering a Strong and Inclusive Future’.

At first glance, I looked at the title "Smart vs Sustainable - is it a choice?" and thought that the scientific aspects wouldn’t apply to my main interests which are resident participation and neighbourhood planning. But how wrong can you be?! The whole room was captivated when Professor Peter Head CBE introduced the resilience.io programme that is currently being developed.

The programme will allow professionals and communities to view a city-region and its current development path, acting as “a tool for testing possible scenarios and driving towards a holistic set of social, environment and economic goals”. The potential for connected data sources, accessible to the public, would most certainly improve community interaction with planning and reflects the ever-changing nature of the profession.

For me, this talk was really inspirational and reflected my interests. Titles of the talks are a good indicator of the theme but do not necessarily reflect the breadth of content.

Who knew that planning makes for a good night out?

Whether a council is proactive in planning for the night-time economy is unlikely to be uppermost in most people’s minds when choosing where to go for an evening out. But the "Planning after Dark" session taught me that planning is crucial for a thriving and inclusive nightlife.

Simon Gilbert from Cardiff Council spoke about the regeneration of Cardiff Bay and the city centre. He explained that prioritising the creation of functional spaces for night-time activities and development of safety initiatives within the planning process had influenced the continuing success of the city’s nightlife. 

Paul Shuker from WYG urged more councils to realise how important nightlife can be to a place’s overall identity and vitality and suggested integrating night-time economy policies into Local Development Frameworks. Leenamari Aantaa-Collier, from Shakespeare Martineau, discussed how the connection between planning and licensing decisions needs to be improved to eliminate difficulties for business owners within the night-time economy sector. All the speakers seemed to agree and a straw poll of the audience showed the majority agreed too.

International speakers: a benefit to us all

The Planning Convention celebrated its relationship with international professionals and academics. Professor Barbara Norman took us on an adventure to Canberra to talk climate change; Malmö (and its governance) was the next stop with Planning Director of the City of Malmö Christer Larsson, and by lunchtime, Norliza Hashim, Secretary General, Eastern Regional Organization for Planning and Human Settlements, had inspired us with planning for housing examples from Malaysia. Each case study pushed the audience to think outside the UK planning policy context and envisage new planning ideals.

As Professor Robin Hambleton said, planning is by no means an insular profession; it is versatile and the experiences of other nations can be applied to the UK. 

WYG At RTPI Planning Convention

Image: I'm on the left with two colleagues at the Convention

Networking: be prepared

Networking is an enjoyable part of the convention. It was the perfect opportunity to meet professionals across the sector – public, private, academics, other young planners and international planners. Business cards are important. Although this may be obvious for those who already attend professional events, it isn’t necessarily so for students or planners at the very start of their careers.

I saw many young people handwriting their details onto the back of other delegates’ cards. This was not a huge problem, but if you can get some personalised cards printed before an event, this will show your creativity and preparedness and make for easier networking.

Tweet away!

It was hard to miss the large screen showing a live feed to the Twitter hashtag #PlanCon17. The convention encouraged us to get tweeting - to react, to generate debate and share information and articles. Twitter made it really easy to engage with fellow planners and then to chat to people afterwards. In fact, so many of us were tweeting that #PlanCon17 was trending at #3.  

And finally...

A great venue, with good air conditioning, makes for a great event. On what was rumoured to be the hottest day in London since 1976, it was wonderful to be in the elegant and air-conditioned surroundings of Bishopsgate, with chilled smoothies at hand!

Annabel Le Lohé

Annabel Le Lohé

Annabel Le Lohé is a Planning Technician at professional services firm WYG. She is currently studying for her MSc in Spatial Planning at Oxford Brookes University, which involves travelling to Toronto to conduct research into Canadian neighbourhood planning.