The first speaker, Trudi Elliot (RTPI Chief Executive) set out the challenges that planners will have to face in coming decades, including population growth, resource shortages, climate change and a squeezed public sector. Despite these major challenges, the UK is well placed to offer positive solutions through planning – the MTRPI qualification is an international gold standard. Trudi also highlighted the differences between the four UK national planning regimes.
Kate Henderson, Chief Executive of the Town and Country Planning Association followed on from some of the issues set out by Trudi Elliot and one potential contribution to their solution – a revisiting of Garden City principles to design and inform new settlements. As well as addressing the existing and escalating housing crisis, these would offer a whole town solution, providing tree-lined, walkable streets, SuDS and mix of land uses. They would be good for the state, business and society. Crucially, the Garden City principles have cross party political support and are featured in the text of the NPPF. This is significant and encouraging.
A key factor for a successful urban place is a vibrant commercial environment and the third speaker was Tony Thomas, Director of Planning and Environment at WYG. Tony undertook a critical examination of the Portas recommendations, questioning many of their relevancies in an environment of out-of-town shopping and Internet sales. He also cited ex Focus DIY head Bill Grimsey, who recently pointed out that town centres and high streets will benefit from streetscaping, pedestrianisation, coffee shops, art space, public advice and services and reasons beside retail with which to attract people into town.
The final speaker was Rob Evans, of Argent, who raced through a visually impressive presentation of the ongoing Central St Martin’s developments in former railway alnds to the immediate north of London’s King’s Cross Station. This is an exemplary scheme to deliver a new piece of city and add long term value, with a sense of place provided in a large part by built heritage, coupled with many complementary land uses, high quality public realm and ultra high accessibility.
In the Q&A session, it was highlighted that a crucial consideration is the creation of palces where people will want to be, and where business will choose to invest – this requires good urban design. Rob Evans pointed out that planners need to be better trained in high quality urban design, as well as providing the atmosphere of sufficient confidence to make long term decisions. This ties in closely to RTPI London’s Good Design = Good Planning series of talks and discussions, taking place this autumn and during Saturday morning at the Conference.