London - Planner's Perspective

First day of the London Study Tour, we met with U.K’s chief planner, who discussed the role of the Department for Communities and Local Government in England. He shared with us planning principles in the U.K., following a plan-led system. I found it intriguing that 90% of planning decisions made by officials do not actually go to court; the role of the government is to legislate, guide, and govern policies, whereas the local level is essentially responsible for plan-making and decision-making. To give us a better perspective on the way the cities are governed, Steve and Mick shared with us case studies discussing the local planning vs. neighborhood planning processes. The Greater London Plan covering 33 boroughs, they discussed public hearings of a neighborhood plan, with the examiner in-charge to decide whether the plan meets the conditions discussed. The plan is to pass a referendum, as was the case for Thames.  The talk emphasized the importance of holding these neighborhood meetings. When particularly discussing the Parish Plan of the town of Woodcote, in 2008, 70% of residents said no to any new housing and in 2013, 91% said yes to allocating 76 homes on 5 sites as per the referendum. From this discussion, we gained a valuable insight into the planning process being a successful means of implementing change with strong participation from the community.

Later in the afternoon we met with the head planners at Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI). Trudi Elliot gave a phenomenal presentation about RTPI’s Centenary year and planning as a part of the solution. She discussed initiatives under the Future Proofing Society (FPS) that looked into the rate of change demographically becoming a big political issue. We heard about RTPI’s opinion of challenges such as extreme weather, energy supply, and social cohesion. FPS looks into responding to these challenges and the future role of planners concerning these issues. Trudi further talked about planning not being a cost, but rather being a creator of a design solution, and its emphasis on the need for an economic growth plan and enterprise. The main goal is to engage people to plan for the future cities of tomorrow.