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President's Blog May 2017

Date: 3/5/2017

This will be my last blog as President of the Planning Officers Society (POS). The next President's blog will be posted after the Spring Conference written by Steve Ingram, Strategic Director - Development and Growth, South Kesteven District Council.

I am hosting the President's Spring Conference in Milton Keynes on the 15th and 16th June 2017. This couldn't be better timed in terms of location as we are right in the middle of the 50th Birthday celebrations for the New Town. Milton Keynes is internationally celebrated as an exemplar of master planning and urban form. For planners, however, it is usually noted as the best national example of a successful new town. On the first day of the Spring Conference Lee Shostak OBE, Chair, Sapiency will talk to us about the success of Milton Keynes over the past 50 years. He will reflect on this and then help us to understand what changes will be required for this success to continue into the next 50 years.

I am into my third year as the Chief Planner for Milton Keynes Council and I have seen first-hand how the original planning has influenced the current form and how the original thinking has protected Milton Keynes from some of the more damaging national policies over the years. It is significant that the Housing White Paper has set out a number of changes to the existing New Towns legislation to enable a further round of new settlements to be developed. This appears as part of a suite of initiatives that are designed to solve the housing crisis. The announcement of these changes followed an announcement of a list of new garden towns and villages and signified a clear shift in national thinking led by the work of the TCPA.  Kate Henderson, Chief Executive of the TCPA has kindly agreed to be my guest speaker at the conference dinner on the evening of the 15th June.

Will Cousins, Chairman of David Lock Associates will take up the theme of high quality design. He will use his vast experience of urban design and master planning to illustrate the challenge of designing places for people to live. The Housing White Paper seeks to introduce a higher test on design at all levels of plan making but what does that really mean in practice? Design needs to be affordable and sustainable but is that realistic when we are also expecting places to be delivered at greater speed?

For me, design that is distinct to a local area is key to local acceptability. The afternoon talk and tour will highlight the difficulty implicit in any discussion about design. Taking on the history and character of a place without preventing progress can be difficult anywhere. In a new town, however, this is amplified as the history and character are so recent that there is no blueprint for listing. Milton Keynes has some of the most recent examples of modern heritage listings. These include the iconic shopping centre and the tour will take in this as well as some of the less well known assets in the centre.

Good planning is often a result of strong political leadership at the local level. The opposite is unfortunately true. It has been recognised that part of the problem of delivering homes quickly is as a result of local opposition and the pressure that local politicians face when they introduce a growth programme to their electorate. Cllr Lewis Herbert, Leader of Cambridge City Council will talk to the Spring Conference about the challenges that Cambridge faces, the plans that exist to resolve these and any opportunities that the current round of consultations offer to assist with future plans.

Possibly one of the most significant reports published over the last 12 months was the interim report of the National Infrastructure Commission. This set out the ambition to link up Cambridge, Milton Keynes and Oxford through a growth corridor mobilised by the commitment of funding for east-west rail and road links. Clearly, there is a need to provide certainty that the required growth can be delivered and the best way of doing this would be through joint plans that cover the strategic objectives of the area. Plans are advanced around Cambridge, progressing around Oxford and in discussion around Milton Keynes. Catriona Riddell is not alone in campaigning for a return to strategic planning but she is certainly one of the most experienced speakers on this subject. Catriona will use current and past experience of strategic planning to outline how the Housing White Paper ambition for strategic planning could be realised across the country.

No Spring Conference would be complete without the Friday morning CLG update from POS Past President and Chief Planner Steve Quartermain. All of the Housing White Paper responses will be in and the general election will be over so we should be able to look forward to an appetiser outlining what we can expect to be released over the summer and early autumn. Anticipating that the biggest issues will be local plans, funding and delivery we have lined up Matthew Spry, Lichfields; Graham Jones, POSe and David Bainbridge, Bidwells to provide their own views on the current and future challenges and opportunities facing planners.

So much has happened and is happening this year that could change the way in which we work, there are opportunities for us to make a real difference to the places in which we plan and to help each other to achieve so much more over a wider area and longer timescale. It is clear to me that the relationships that public sector planner's form with our colleagues in the private sector will become increasingly important. Only by sharing the problem, agreeing a solution and working together to deliver the outcome will we begin to rebuild the confidence that has been lost in planning and delivery.

I have really enjoyed my year as President and I hope to see as many of you as possible at the Spring Conference in Milton Keynes to celebrate planning and planners.

Anna Rose, President 2016/17

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