Planning for Change; What Transport Planners and Planners Share

As a Transport Planner with a keen interest in town planning and place making, I thought it would be interesting to attend the recent Royal Town Planning Institute’s (RTPI) Annual Conference for young planners in Belfast (young being subjective of course).
Whilst it’s fair to say many of my peers in the Transport Planning industry have a basic awareness of the planning system, I’ve learnt over the years that a more detailed understanding of the processes, caveats, exceptions and appeal precedents can pay real dividends when developing for our towns and cities, as well as for our more commercially minded clients.
Let’s face it, I don’t think many people reading this would not have encountered some questionable decision making in the past and that’s not intended to be a slur against those decision makers. My own time spent in the public sector has proven the vast majority of planners and highway engineers are diligent and capable, however those in the public sector do have to navigate the political implications of decision making in addition to the well documented resourcing challenges.
When considering the ever shifting planning and highways policies which differ significantly dependent upon where you are in the UK, their varying degrees of adoption and weighting in the planning system, the Russian Doll-like layers of authority and the plethora of challenges and precedents set, it’s clear there is a lot to assimilate.
It is clear to me that well rounded Transport Planners have the ability to shape not only the transport networks and services we rely upon every day, but to also contribute more significantly to improving places for people which is really what it’s all about. So, with the privilege of being able to join the local East Midlands delegation of young planners, it was off to Belfast and two days of conferencing under the theme of ‘Planning for Change’.


Part of the East Midlands Young Planners delegation

With a varied mix of plenary sessions and workshop breakout opportunities, I was struck by the diversity of topics under discussion and also the forward thinking and ambitious undertones that was shared by all of the speakers. This was partly influenced by the conferences’ setting in Belfast, a city which is going through a significant period of change and has much cause for optimism. However I felt there was more to it than that.
One of the key themes was ‘Smart Cities’ and this is something I’m more than familiar with having contributed to smart transport systems planning and design in the past. There were of course the slightly utopian predications for the future, however in this setting and with these delegates, it was clear that if change is to be realised then it would be these conference delegates that would be actuating it.
There followed presentations and workshops regarding urban regeneration, education, health and other sectors and each consistently cited transport planning as being central to the long-term objectives of planning. So what are these objectives?
Some may suggest the role of planning is to ensure conformity and compliance, serving as a break on economic growth and social mobility. Whilst undeniably it is a regulatory process, it’s now clear to me that effective planning should go beyond this narrow perception of ticking boxes to actually embrace the opportunity to effect positive change on spaces, places and people.
The same is true for Transport Planners; whilst some may consider the discipline as a hindrance to growth (particularly if you enjoy driving a car around city centres), I believe growth cannot be fully achieved if we continue with the business as usual approach. It will take bold and forward thinking planners and transport planners to persist in the promotion and delivery of their beliefs before the benefits can be fully realised.
Initially I felt like I conned my way into the conference, citing that my job description has ‘Planner’ in its title. By the end of the conference I was sure that there is so much that Planners and Transport Planners share, not only with regards to our roles in respect of development, but importantly our unique positions of influence when it comes to creating places for people to thrive in the future.