8 November 2019
On this 70th World Town Planning Day, we celebrate the achievements of planners in shaping more sustainable communities in which both current and future generations want to live, work, and play.
In a rapidly changing world, the goal posts within the planning world keep moving. Now more than ever, planners and the planning system must be adaptable.
Some of our talented planners who attended the Young Planners’ Conference earlier this month got together to provide an overview of where the town planning sector is at today, as well as what the main priorities for next year are.
From left to right: Annabel Le Lohé, Molly Stanley, Laura Robinson
What are 2020’s main town planning priorities?
Molly Stanley, Assistant Planner, Birmingham:High-quality design (especially considering sustainability principles) and a sense of place are both moving up the local and national political agenda and will continue to do so next year. The publication of the National Design Guide in October 2019 will begin to be utilised by both architects, consultants and decision-makers in 2020 and I am keen to see its impact.
Annabel Le Lohé, Senior Planner, Milton Keynes: A clear focus will be town centre revitalisation. The downturn in traditional retail on our high streets has accelerated in recent years and the government’s reaction to distribute £3.6 billion to 100 towns in England will support innovative regeneration plans. Having lived in three of those towns and worked on projects in many more, I would be keen to see more mixed-use and community-focussed developments, bringing residential developments into the most sustainable parts of the towns accompanied with interesting and vibrant community facilities.
Laura Robinson, Planner, Milton Keynes: One particular focus at the Young Planners’ Conference was regeneration and the increasing significance of modular housing. With modular developments emerging across the country using modern methods of construction that raise productivity and efficiency, I think they will become a lot more mainstream as awareness increases in 2020.
A recent development at Smith’s Dock in Newcastle-upon-Tyne only emphasises the popularity of modular builds, allowing consumers to customise their own internal layout to suit personal requirements. The properties often sell for above the average market prices, which is not surprising given the spacious and contemporary interior, but it could defeat one of the primary purposes behind creating the properties for first-time buyers.
What can the UK do to make towns more cohesive in terms of nurturing equity, diversity, and inclusion in 2020?
MS: The prosperity (or lack thereof) in our high streets has become a key issue over the last few years. The recent Government announcement to invest £1bn of funding through the Future High Streets Fund should help to revitalise and hopefully transform them into places where people want to meet and socialise – I look forward to seeing the start of this process next year.
AL: I was pleased to see the RTPI support research into how gender shapes people’s use of space. I am keen to see a greater focus on encouraging a gender mix in all levels of the planning process to better mould our towns and cities.
A recent permission in London for 100 percent affordable housing also caught my attention. Affordability issues in London are no secret, but I have concerns about how this development may inhibit integration communities. In 2020, it is important that more practically affordable developments come forward and that social cohesion is considered in decision-making.
LR: A recent Digital Futures event by CityFibre in Milton Keynes urged getting ahead of the digitised and data curve. Technology will inevitably continue to diversify, and artificial intelligence will change our lives more than we could have ever imagined was possible. The planning industry should look at how to evolve and incorporate these technologies into everyday work to streamline processes.
If towns and cities were predicated on access to technology and information for all, I think they could be cohesive. Collaboration across various platforms and interests needs to take place to include everyone in the conversations to influence change.
What have you learned in town planning in 2019?
MS: 2019 marked my first full year in Town Planning so there have been many lessons learned along the way. I submitted and won my first planning appeal, which taught me how a seemingly ‘minor’ development is prone to significant challenge and scrutiny. I am continuing to learn how to best support clients to deliver these projects.
AL: This year has taught me that big and bold ambitions in planning can bring excitement and vitality to an area, even if the delivery of the vision is longer term. There is currently a buzz around Milton Keynes, for example, and planning has played no small part in this.
LR: I think we have recently accepted the importance of regeneration, improving, and reusing what we already have. We’re at the point where we’ve realised what works and what we should be doing, Making it an actual reality on the ground is the next hurdle we need to overcome.