Thinking big

After over 20 years working as a planner in local government, I finally decided to join the RTPI. Perhaps it was the steely glance of one of the senior RTPI managers that did it, perhaps it was that after all this time I just felt I should. Or perhaps it was that I finally had an employer who would pay. Anyway. I did.  And once I join something, I can’t help but poke my nose in and become a bit active.

So here I am, an RTPI assessor for the APC route in.  And it’s fascinating.  The route in for those I fondly think of as baby planners, is via demonstrating that they are a reflective practitioner – not just knowing what you’ve got to do, but also understanding the context, why you make the decisions you do, and learning  from your choices.  Applicants pour their hearts (and log books) out over many pages, demonstrating – in the most part- sufficient professional planning skills, competencies, understanding and knowledge to  convince assessors that they should be allowed into the gang.

The section that I find hardest to assess is the demonstration of ‘understanding the context’. And this is the area I feel people most easily let themselves down. The overwhelming impression I pick up is that whilst some of the applicants understand their job, they don’t pick up the role of planning in the wider world.  About implementing national, regional and local policies. About the role of planning within local government, about delivering community objectives, the spatial expression of an area’s aspirations – about achieving outcomes for the greater good.   Where’s the understanding about planning helping with climate change, housing, employment, leisure, an ageing population? Very few applications that I’ve seen really cover the value of development as a positive force for good, how it can meet community needs (and I don’t mean in the community facility sense, but in the investment in an area way), engagement rather than consultation, LAA targets and the role that planning (and development) play in achieving these. And development has to be more than just, well, development – it’s not the end of the story. A plan is only a plan until it’s translated into stuff on the ground.

Most of the applications I’ve looked at have been from private sector planners and whilst they understand what they are paid to do – which usually seems to be around securing a planning permission – the big picture context is missing.  Am I surprised? Yes, actually.  Am I disappointed? Definitely. So I’d say to everyone – new and old planners – remember the point of what we do, that development for development’s sake is not the whole point. Remember the context within which we work and what planning is supposed to achieve. The right development, in the right place, at the right time.

So for any young planners about to embark on the APC route in, do sit back for a moment – stop looking at your log book of activities and think about why you are doing your job – it’s probably the very reasons that drew you to planning in the first place. Let your heart do a bit of the talking!

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2 thoughts on “Thinking big

  1. As a planner working in the private sector for a large consultancy I find this article condescending to say the least. I have my own doubts about the RTPI and the APC process. Encouraging the so called “baby planners” (many of whom are highly intelligent ambitious graduates) to take a wider perspective is restricted due to the prescriptive and pedantic nature of the APC route. My experience is that many APC assessors fail to recognise the wide range of work we often undertake and how this relates and constitutes spatial planning as defined in the APC guidance.

  2. I agree with Rebecca. The APC process is out of touch with real world development where excellent planners with great experience do not meet the grade because their experience doesn’t match all the jumping through hoops criteria of the APC process.

    The RTPI needs to think of a new way of assessing competence rather than rewarding those who can write the most reflective submission.

    In the real world planning is delivered from both public and private sectors were the ‘context’ for development changes.

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