Following a welcome from Peter Murray (NLA) and event organiser Tom Venables, on behalf of RTPI London, the first presentation began from David West, of Studio Egret West. David’s composure this evening was particularly impressive as one of his major projects was being determined by Hillingdon’s planning committee that same evening. David is an urban designer and planner. He argued that design is analogous to drawing, whilst planning’s analogue is prose. Not everyone is able to draw, but planners need to be able to write a good drawing. David’s take on the evening’s title was thus “Good Planning = Good Prose”. Following this outline, ten case studies were used to illustrate the role that planners can play in delivering quality places; these include political nous, partnership working and an ability to be general practitioners while working with specialist experts.
The second speaker was Colin Wilson, a strategic planner and urban designer based at the Greater London Authority. Colin started by reminding the audience that a lot of town planning in London happened long before 1947; much of this was very detailed and well thought out. On example is Maida Vale, which was developed in the 19th and early 20th centuries according to a masterplan by George Gooch. The building styles and materials changed over time, from Classical stucco in the 1840s, to Gothic brickwork by the 1870s, but the original plan was sufficiently adaptable to deliver an exceptionally successful, attractive and high value urban place. A 21st century example was given in the form of Vauxhall Nine Elms Battersea (VNEB), where cross borough cooperation is key. Planners have been able to bring individual landowners together and create a higher quality of place as a result – the liner park being a good example of this. Process is as important as end product.
The third speaker was Kathy MacEwen, who is Head of Planning and Enabling at CABE. Kathy extolled the inherent interest of the general practice nature of planning – the variety that the job entails can provide huge insight into places, for example the many conservation areas in LB Camden. Kathy noted how CABE’s role has evolved; its original external focus was professional –to-professional. Now it is professional-to-public. The relationship between good design and public receptiveness must not be underestimated; over 73% of people would support more house building if only they were well delivered and in keeping with the local area. Nick Boles reportedly shares this opinion. Accordingly, planning documents must tell the story, set an agenda and be very clear, with high quality maps and illustrations. Other learning points for neighbourhood planning include the need for good, inspiring example of design that people will want to talk about. Professionals must be able to listen effectively to engage meaningfully in the placemaking process.. Like David, Kathy also highlighted the need for partnership working.
The final speaker was to have been RTPI President Colin Haylock, however the preceding three presentations had overrun to such an extent that it was almost time to wind up. With the time limit in mind, Colin nobly volunteered to omit his presentation, in order to allow time for a panel discussion. Colin began by citing his experience at the 2012 Young Planners Conference in October, where a only a tiny minority of planners appeared to consider themselves to be designers. Colin maintained that this was an incorrect perception; all planners are designers. As David West had articulated earlier, a good planner is able to write a good building with prose.