What's Happening

The Planner of the Future

14th October 2019

The new lifeblood of the planning profession will now (hopefully) have settled into their planning-related degree courses at university, equipping themselves to be ‘the planner of the future’!

The main difference from when I started my planning degree in 1983 at Heriot-Watt University is that there is now a more transparent, simplified route to entering the planning profession; these routes are called Assessments of Professional Competence (APC). There are three routes to Chartered membership – a fully accredited RTPI degree (L-APC), a non-accredited degree (A-APC) and as an experienced practitioner (EP-APC) – which are all competency based and follow a consistent structure, while allowing candidates with different educational backgrounds and experience to be eligible. In England, there is also the recent introduction of a Degree Apprenticeship which enables an apprentice to gain an RTPI accredited qualification and Chartered Town Planner (MRTPI) status whilst gaining practical experience in the work place (https://www.rtpi.org.uk/degreeapprenticeship ).

What are the skills required by the planner of the future? From my 30 years’ experience working predominantly in the private sector, there are core skills required of all planners, whether you operate in the public, private or third sector. These are reflected in the RTPI competencies, such as, analysing and interpreting data and situations, diagnosing problems and identifying relevant causal factors, predicting and forecasting, goal setting and identifying possible courses of action, evaluating and comparing possible courses of action and implementing actions and monitoring them.

However, perhaps the key core skill is the ability to communicate effectively at all levels. It’s about delivering a clear, simple message about what the vision is and what your strategy is. In planning, it’s also about avoiding professional jargon, with a focus on “Creating Better Places”. The message has to be relevant to whoever the audience is and not over-complicated and it should be in words that allows the audience to disagree if that is what they want. How would a child understand what “growth” means? Is housing going to be good for you or bad? Is commercial development going to provide job opportunities or competition? We seem to make planning a complicated subject often having to address mixed messages, but the essence of planning is simple. Ebenezer Howard didn’t make it complicated – not having to travel too far to work, living in a pleasant place with good facilities. It’s the process of planning that has become complicated not the objectives.

Clearly, our modern world presents new and emerging challenges, as well as opportunities for current and future planners. For example, climate change/crisis, infrastructure delivery, place-making and land value uplift capture. Digital innovation, urban data and user-centred design will be a key ‘influencer’ on the future of planning, changing and improving the UK and international planning systems as we currently know them. Future Cities Catapult has launched the Future of Planning https://futurecities.catapult.org.uk/project/future-of-planning/ and Scottish Government continues to make significant progress towards the launch of the Digital Planning Strategy, which is expected later this year. The launch of the Strategy will be a key part of the wider programme of planning reform, alongside the Planning (Scotland) Act 2019 secondary legislative programme and the NPF4. It is critically important that our planners are appropriately ‘skilled-up’ to resource and deliver the planning system of the future.

Planning can take a long time to deliver results, but communities and the public/private/third sectors need to believe that planners are the leaders of transformational and beneficial change. As eloquently expressed by a planning practitioner, ‘…planners are doctors of our cities and towns; we can identify issues and potentials, draw up long-term cross-sector strategies, and create inclusive, healthy and sustainable communities for all.’

The typical roles and even employers of planners in the future may be radically different from what they are at the moment. The boundaries of built environment occupations may be fluid, as is evident by the variation seen across Europe. But one thing is for certain, it will always be an exciting profession for the planner of the future!

The views expressed are my own. Please don’t hesitate to contact me on (e) stefano@stefanosmithplanning.com (twitter) @stefanosmith15 (LinkedIn) Stefano Smith FRTPI (w) www.stefanosmithplanning.com