Idox sponsors RTPI Research Excellence Awards

Idox is pleased once again to be supporting the RTPI Awards for Research Excellence for 2017.

The awards are intended to recognise the best spatial planning research from the Royal Town Planning Institute’s accredited planning schools, and to highlight the implications of academic research for policy and practice. In addition, the awards recognise the valuable contribution of planning consultancies to planning research and promote planning research generally.

Submitted research and its potential implications for planning policy and practice can relate to anywhere in the world (not just the UK and Ireland).  The five award categories are:

  • Academic Award
  • Early Career Researcher Award
  • Student Award
  • Sir Peter Hall Award for Wider Engagement
  • Planning Consultancy Award

Idox: supporting the planning profession

As the UK’s leading provider of planning and building control solutions to local authorities, Idox actively engages with issues affecting the planning profession. Here at the Idox Information Service, we see our core mission as improving decision making in public policy by improving access to research and evidence, and we are proud to be playing a part in these awards to promote academic, researcher and student excellence in this area.

This is the third time that Idox has given its support to the RTPI Awards for Research Excellence. In 2015, and we sponsored the Student Award, won by Emma Thorpe, a student in the School of Planning and Geography at Cardiff University. Idox also sponsored the Sir Peter Hall Award for Wider Engagement Award, won by Dr Paul Cowie from Newcastle University’s School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape. Paul went on to write a guest blog post for us describing his innovative project, which uses theatre to engage communities in planning.

Last year, Idox again sponsored the Student Award, which was won by Adam van Heerden, of the University of Cape Town, for his research engaging with a marginalised group – the ‘Skarrelers’ in Cape Town’s southern suburbs – who survive on the margins of prime urban spaces by either selling or re-using discarded waste material with value.

The Wider Engagement award was won by Place Alliance – a national movement campaigning for high quality places. In addition, we sponsored the 2016 Planning Consultancy award, which was won by Ryden (lead consultants) along with WSP and Brodies, who delivered the Planning for Infrastructure Research Report for the Scottish Government and Transport Scotland.

In 2017, Idox is pleased once again to be sponsoring the Student, Wider Engagement and Planning Consultancy awards.

Further details on the five award categories, application guidance and entry forms, are available here. The closing date for applications to the awards is 19 May 2017. The finalists will be announced on 24 July, with the winners being named at an awards ceremony in Belfast City Hall on 12 September.


The Idox Information Service is the first port of call for information and knowledge on public and social policy and practice. For 40 years the service has been saving its members time and money, and helping them to make more informed decisions, improve frontline services and understand the policy environment.

For more information see: http://informationservice.idoxgroup.com

In partnership with RTPI, the Idox Information Service has introduced an individual membership offer, which provides a 30% discount on the normal price.

Idox congratulates winners of the RTPI Awards for Research Excellence 2016

winners-and-commended-group-pictureFor the second year, we were proud to support the RTPI Awards for Research Excellence. The winners and commended entries were announced on Wednesday at the UK-Ireland Planning Research Conference, held in Cardiff. They represent a showcase of high quality, spatial planning research with clear relevance to policy and practice.

It was pleasing to see the interdisciplinary nature of many of the projects – highlighting the important contribution that the planning profession makes to wider agendas. This year’s competition attracted a record number of entries which were whittled down to a shortlist of 25.

Idox sponsored three of the award categories in 2016 – The Sir Peter Hall Award for Wider Engagement, the Student Award and the Planning Consultancy Award.

Worthy winners

The Sir Peter Hall Award for Wider Engagement went to the Place Alliance – a national movement campaigning for high quality places brought together by University College London. The Place Alliance brings together built environment sector organisations with an interest in place design to build consensus around policy that would lead to high quality places. Organisations involved include the Royal Town Planning Institute, the Royal Institute of British Architects, English Heritage and the Prince’s Foundation.

Their work has fed directly into the work of the Select Committee for National Policy on the Built Environment, which called for a fundamental shift to a place-led approach to policy.

In a new category this year, the Planning Consultancy Award went to Ryden (lead consultants) along with WSP and Brodies, who delivered the Planning for Infrastructure Research Report for the Scottish Government and Transport Scotland. The report researched the delivery of infrastructure for development through the planning system.

It was impressive to see the mixed methods used, which included a literature review, an on-line survey of 35 Scottish planning authorities, 38 in-depth consultations and 8 detailed case studies. The report has informed draft planning delivery advice as well as the Independent Review of the Scottish Planning System. The introduction of this award reflects the calibre and rigour of research that is done within the planning consultancy community.

Meanwhile, Adam van Heerden, of the University of Cape Town, won the Student Award for his research engaging with a marginalised group – the ‘Skarrelers’ in Cape Town’s southern suburbs – who survive on the margins of prime urban spaces by either selling or re-using discarded waste material with value.

Strengthening the links between practice and research

Dr Michael Harris, RTPI’s Head of Research, said:

“The winners and highly commended entries have demonstrated how academic researchers can positively reach out to practitioners and policymakers with insights and findings to inform and influence their work. I am pleased these awards have been able to celebrate such impactful, high quality research again this year.”

Andrew Riley, Chief Operating Officer at Idox plc said:

“Idox is proud to be a sponsor once again of the RTPI Awards for Research Excellence. Those recognised illustrate the best planning research and its relevance to solving the real-world issues that are facing communities in the UK and internationally. On behalf of Idox I would like to extend our congratulations to all the commended entries and winners.”

There were five categories at this year’s awards and the full list of winners and highly commended entries reflect the diversity of planning research being conducted in the UK and internationally.


We regularly write on planning issues … follow our blog to get notified by email when we publish a new article.

The Idox Information Service has also introduced an individual membership offer in partnership with RTPI which offers a 30% discount on the normal price. The service brings the latest planning research and commentary direct to your inbox.

Delivering the value of planning: new report says stronger planning authorities will create better places

plan drawing

This month, the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) has published a significant report suggesting ways in which good planning can deliver sustainable economic growth and tackle the country’s housing shortage.

Delivering the Value of Planning argues that properly resourcing councils’ planning teams, improving respect for planners and strengthening their influence, will lead to more and better development.

The challenges facing planners

The report contends that thirty years of almost continual changes in planning policy and regulation, along with cuts to local government budgets, has left the UK “incapable of consistently delivering good quality new places.”

The researchers also express concern about the widespread perception that planners act as a brake on new housing, economic growth and entrepreneurial activity:

Many changes have been informed by the flawed notion that planning has held back an otherwise efficient, self-regulating market that, if increasingly freed from its constraints, would be able to more rapidly deliver development.”

The impact of these challenges on planners themselves may be seen in the results of an RTPI survey, which found that:

  • nearly three-quarters (73%) think that constant changes to planning have hindered their ability to deliver good places;
  • more than half (53%) think that these changes have hindered housing development;
  • nearly 70% think that they are less able to deliver the benefits of planning compared to 10 years ago.

The report’s focus is on England, and the authors note that the policy debate around planning in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland has generally been more positive and constructive. But they observe that here too planning in many ways “remains under valued, under resourced and under used as a positive enabler and facilitator for development.”

Where planning works well

Throughout the report, the authors argue that effective and proactive planning can deliver considerable economic, social and environmental benefits for society, including:

  • providing clarity and confidence for investments;
  • improving the quantity and quality of land for development and construction;
  • delivering more and better housing development;
  • lowering the cost of overall development and opening up opportunities for new development.

To demonstrate the contribution of planning to the creation of successful places, the report showcases five award-winning developments in the UK:

  • Cranbrook in East Devon – a new community created by proactive planning set to provide 7,500 homes over the next 20 years;
  • Brindleyplace in Birmingham – an urban renewal development which has preserved the area’s heritage whilst revitalising it to attract new business and leisure uses;
  • Upton in Northampton – a high quality urban extension comprising 1,350 homes, with a commitment to exemplary urban design and environmental sustainability;
  • Norwich Riverside – a large regeneration project which has transformed a former industrial site into a successful major residential, retail and leisure development;
  • Fairfield Park in Bedfordshire – where the local authority has played a crucial role in shaping a high quality, attractive development with a strong sense of community and good facilities.

Rising to the challenge: what needs to be done

Delivering the Value of Planning says there is an urgent need to take stock of the UK’s planning systems, and to debate alternative futures that might produce better results. It advocates three key steps in this direction:

  • planners need to raise greater awareness about how better economic as well as social and environmental outcomes can be delivered through well-planned development;
  • national and local government needs to consider the particular powers, resources and expertise that planning services require;
  • in both research and policy, the value of planning needs to be analysed to understand how its economic, social and environmental benefits can be maximised.

The report argues that planning authorities are in a good position to exercise leadership, and to think about places in ways that the private sector often cannot:

  • bringing together agencies, government bodies and service providers, to identify and deliver the best long-term outcomes across different policy areas;
  • setting and enforcing high standards of building design;
  • providing for public and green spaces to enhance the attractiveness of an area to residents, businesses and visitors;
  • removing risks and obstacles to development, such as contaminated land.

In the midst of a national housing shortage, the report calls for a stronger role for public sector-led developments, pointing to examples of good practice in Manchester, Norwich and Birmingham which have delivered more and better housing and development.

Realising the potential of planning

The RTPI report reinforces the planning profession’s strong conviction that planning is a solution, rather than a problem.

 “If the full benefits of planning are truly to be realised, we need reforms that exploit its true potential to reconcile economic, social and environmental challenges through positive and collective action, and which confront those sectoral interests that seek only short-term, self-interested solutions.”


Idox continues to support council planning departments through its land and property solutions.

We are also sponsoring three of the RTPI’s Awards for Research Excellence this year – the Sir Peter Hall award for Wider Engagement, the Planning Consultancy award and the Student award. The results will be announced on Wednesday 7 September 2016.

Supporting regeneration and creative start-ups … what can we learn from Hackney?

View of Amazon HQBy Morwen Johnson

A traditional pub, standing alone in the midst of a massive development site in East London. The photo above, taken at the end of June, seems to sum up dramatic changes that are being replicated all across London as regeneration transforms many Boroughs. Social and community regeneration, however, does not inevitably follow from investment in commercial property development. And ensuring that local communities benefit, and are not displaced or excluded by processes of gentrification, can be a tough balancing act.

I recently went on a study tour within Hackney, organised as part of the RTPI Convention in June, to understand how the council’s planning and regeneration team have been working to attract investment into the area and tying this in to employment support and small business growth.

Rapid economic growth but continuing deprivation

A number of high profile major site developments are underway in Hackney, including multiple hotels and the new Amazon HQ. This has gone hand-in-hand with its emergence in the last few years as an attractive location for start-ups and entrepreneurs.

Hackney experienced a business growth rate of 40% between 2004 and 2012, 17% higher than London as a whole. The population of the Borough has also grown from approximately 265,000 in 2006 to an estimated 310,000 in 2015. A report from Tech City published last month also highlighted the importance of the key sectors of creative, technology and business services in the local economy – they make up 37% of all employment in Hackney and 54% of its 11,000 businesses.

It’s worth noting, however, that this economic success has come at a time when Hackney still has some of the highest levels of deprivation and poverty in London. For example, in 2016, 30% of nursery and primary school pupils are eligible for and claiming free school meals, rising to 33% at secondary level (London Datastore).

Vibrancy of the area at risk?

The improved perception of the area, while welcome, is pushing up property and rental prices. And now, as start-ups and small businesses risk being priced out of Hackney, it is important for the area to retain the ability to host start-ups. One solution is ‘meanwhile use’ – the temporary use of vacant buildings or sites, especially for community projects.

Hackney council has engaged with local developers and property partners to create innovative and cost-effective spaces on a temporary basis to promote local business, employment and culture.  Hackney House on Curtain Road is just one example – the building provides a café and bar area, as well as exhibition and meeting space for hire. Wi-fi and desk space is available for not-for-profit organisations and start-ups to use, and regular events encourage business networking. The project won the Best Town Centre project at the London Planning Awards in February 2016.

The council suggests that while it’s important to keep businesses in the area, the core aim should “be to keep projects innovative and exciting”. Some churn is inevitable and councils should “extend both a platform and an open mind to its current local business communities”.

Ways into work

Another example of collaboration which has delivered cost effective assets to support the local community is The Opportunity Hub on Pitfield Street. The council has been working to develop its role as a broker between the private sector and community sector to create jobs and training for local people. The Opportunity Hub sits next to a large housing estate and research showed that nearly a quarter of residents local to the Hub had never used the internet.

Previously a community centre that was only being used for two hours a week, the building has been redesigned to offer an antithesis to job centres. As well as having space for training or employer recruitment sessions, there is free hot-desking space. A team of information and guidance advisors are available and focus on getting local people ‘job-ready’. They also engage with local businesses to promote apprenticeships. Touchingly, the local group of women who used the previous centre for afternoon bingo now use the Hub space instead.

Hackney collateral

Looking to the future

It’s clear that the council in Hackney aren’t resting on their laurels. As well as continuing to use Section 106 as a tool to ensure larger businesses moving into the area will offer jobs to local unemployed people, they are planning another Opportunity Hub in the foyer of a local library. They are also looking at new ideas to provide space for temporary uses, such as the untapped potential of over 2000 empty garages in the area.

Close relationships between planning professionals, town centre managers and the business development teams appear to have helped the council to use regeneration to benefit the local community.


Read more about Hackney’s three year framework to promote enterprise and regeneration in the Tech City Best Practice report.

Follow us on Twitter to see what developments in public and social policy are interesting our research team.

Read some of our other blogs on regeneration:

Ensuring that growth and great places aren’t incompatible … reflections on the RTPI Convention

rtpi programme image

The 2016 RTPI Convention earlier this week was attended by over 400 people keen to discuss how the profession and the planning system can support the delivery of growth. Being held just a few days after the UK’s Brexit vote, there was a predictable inevitability when every speaker prefaced their talk with the caveat ‘of course everything is uncertain now’. A consistent message across the day however was that regardless of the political uncertainty, the key challenges of demographic change, enhanced mobility and a national housing shortage still need to be addressed. And planning is central to producing long-term, strategic responses to these issues.

While Idox were at the conference exhibition in order to highlight the success of the i-Apply combined online planning and building control submissions service, our Knowledge Exchange team were at the convention itself.

Planning great places

Although there was plenty of discussion during the day about the ongoing impact of planning reform – especially the current review of the planning system in Scotland, the Housing and Planning Act 2016 and the role of the National Infrastructure Commission – the most inspiring sessions focused on practical examples of collaboration and inclusion in strategic planning.

Paul Barnard, Assistant Director for Strategic Planning & Infrastructure at Plymouth City Council described the key ingredients of aspirational plan making. The council has twice won the RTPI’s Silver Jubilee Cup for their pioneering approach, firstly in 2006 and then again last year for their Plan for Homes. This city-wide planning framework addresses issues including land release, infrastructure and delivery. Incredibly, the overarching Plymouth Plan replaced over 138 different strategies.

Paul explained that the challenge for the team was to develop credible policy responses to the social challenges facing the area, and then win over hearts and minds to support these solutions. The benefits of having one integrated strategy is that it sets a vision for ‘place’ that all departments can mobilise behind. Paul argued that the profession has to “believe in proactive, positive planning” and make the case for that every day in their work.

Delivering housing growth

Throughout the conference, the need to deliver more housing was a recurrent theme. A number of speakers argued that direct intervention in the housing market, for example through local housing companies or councils buying sites, was becoming a necessity. Toby Lloyd, Head of Policy at Shelter, pointed out that central government interventions have been focused on the consumer end of the market (for example, Starter Homes) rather than on delivering development sites and land.

Discussions during the day highlighted the current disconnect between where new housing is being delivered and where there are employment growth opportunities. Yolande Barnes, Head of Savills World Research, also suggested that we need to stop planning in terms of ‘housing units’ – people live in neighbourhoods and communities, and we shouldn’t forget this.

The question of how we capture land value, and use this to fund infrastructure development, was also raised repeatedly. In many situations, we have fragmented development delivered by different developers and the question of responsibility for wider public benefits is difficult. Planning tools such as the Community Infrastructure Levy and Section 106 have attempted to address this, but do not necessarily provide a timely or joined up approach to infrastructure delivery.

What if cities could change our world?

While recognising the challenges facing the profession, there was a strong emphasis during the day on the transformational potential of planning.

Alfonso Vegara, of Fundación Metropóli, describing the rejuvenation of Bilbao, suggested that successful planning needs to recognise the new scale of cities and economic development. The interconnections mean that growth corridors or city regions are only going to become more important. Successful economic growth will be dependent on retaining and attracting talent and skills in polycentric areas, and strategic planning needs to take this into account. The successful regeneration of Bilbao “was not a miracle, but the result of vision and leadership.”

This theme was also reflected in Ed Cox’s session on the RTPI’s work with IPPR on the need for an integrated, spatial approach to growing the economy in the North of England. Producing a vision for prosperity will depend on addressing key structural challenges. Maximising opportunities within an interconnected metropolitan region needs to recognise the importance of both cities and their hinterlands. It was also argued that the ‘Northern Powerhouse’ ambition will fail if citizens aren’t helped to feel engaged economically, politically and socially.

A rallying cry for leadership

There has been a trend in recent years for the planning system to be portrayed as a barrier and a bureaucratic obstacle which is getting in the way of growth. One speaker quoted Joseph Konvitz saying “planning has been discredited in the public mind and starved by the public purse”. There was a strong sense during the conference of ‘enough is enough’. The consistent message was that planning and planners are not the problem, and are doing the best they can in a difficult context.

As a profession, planners are trained to take a holistic view. They operate at the junction between politics, finance and community. And they are perfectly placed to provide leadership, foresight and clarity. The skills to deliver great places, which people want to live in, are needed now, more than ever. And there is a need to “rekindle the idea of planning as a key democratic process”.

The challenge at the end of the Convention was “do it with passion, or not at all”. Planning is not a ‘numbers game’ – we need to consider quality of place and ambition, not just the drive for housing completions.


The Idox Information Service has introduced an exclusive offer for RTPI members to help them with their evidence needs.

iApply logo colour 72dpi RGB

 

Idox’s iApply is leading the way with its integrated application system for planning and building control that has been built to grow with the future in mind.

Visit www.iapply.co.uk to learn more.

The Town Meeting: the award-winning planning engagement project, one year on

Scene from the "Town Meeting"

Scene from the “Town Meeting”

In this guest blog post, Dr Paul Cowie from the University of Newcastle reflects on an exciting year for the Town Meeting project, which uses theatre to engage communities in planning.

It’s now a year since we started the Town Meeting project and 7 months since the project won the Sir Peter Hall Award for Wider Engagement at the 2015 RTPI Research Excellence awards.

The Town Meeting uses theatre as a way of co-producing research into public participation in planning with communities themselves. The Town Meeting has been performed in 12 communities across the north of England. The use of theatre in this way is unique and has engaged audiences in the issues in a way that traditional forms of research cannot. If you are interested to find out more about the project and the play, we have written a blog about it here and produced a ‘behind the scenes’ podcast about the development process here.

The impacts of the RTPI award

One of the major impacts of winning the award has been to develop the credibility of the project with both professionals and funders. The initial phase of the research was all about understanding the issues in more detail. We’ve now had a chance to do that and the second phase of the project has been to try to change planning practice to address some of the concerns raised by the participants in the project.

To undertake this new phase of the project we have been fortunate to get funding from the ESRC Impact Accelerator Account scheme and Newcastle Institute for Social Renewal. Having the research recognised by a professional body, the RTPI, through the Research Excellence Awards was invaluable in making the case for further funding.

The new phase of the project aims to take the lessons learnt from the play and turn that into a tool which planners can use to co-produce knowledge which can inform strategic planning.

Bringing planning and health together

So far we have worked with health professionals and planners to explore how planning and health can be reunited. In the workshop, health professionals and planners were presented with a proposal to build a super-casino in a run-down seaside town. The play provided a forum for the planners and health professionals to discuss the wider implications of development proposals in a new way.

The event highlighted the lack of understanding that health professionals have of the planning system. It’s often felt that planning can be the solution to many problems but it has been clear from the project how little citizens and professionals alike understand the process of planning and its limitations.

Collaborative planning

We are now about to start working with Northumberland National Park Authority to assist in the development of their new local plan. Through a new version of the play it is hoped communities can understand the importance of the local plan in framing any later planning decision that may affect them.

Previous performances of the play and discussions with audiences have made it clear people only get involved in planning issues at the point when it’s often too late to have any meaningful impact on that decision. The paradox is that at the point at which they can make a meaningful difference, the preparation of the local plan, it is often difficult for communities to see the relevance to them.

Using a play as a tool in collaborative planning can therefore turn the abstract process of preparing a local plan into something meaningful by showing how it has a direct impact on later planning decisions which may affect them greatly. The play also allows the community the freedom to create a vision for their local area, in this case the National Park.

Gaining the trust of planners from the National Park was helped greatly by the award. There is a degree of risk on their part in taking on this untested, and some may say frivolous, method of plan production. The award has given the planners the confidence to take that risk.

We are hopeful that the next year will lead to some concrete outcomes for the project, and to the play making a meaningful difference to the way communities and planners co-produce knowledge about places that matter to them.

Final thoughts

At a recent performance of the play in Cockermouth, the ‘Blennerhasset Village Parliament’ was mentioned. I had not heard of this and asking around the department, neither had any of my colleagues. Started in 1866 as a way involving the whole population in the governance of the community, the village parliament was an example of community governance in the 19th Century.

It was a reminder that sometimes we think we are being innovative when in fact we are merely repeating history – and of the fundamental value of engaging people in the process of research.


Dr Paul Cowie is a Research Assistant in the School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape at the University of Newcastle. Paul’s research focuses on community planning and community representation in the planning process. In 2015, Paul and his project The Town Meeting won the Sir Peter Hall Award for Wider Engagement at the RTPI Awards for Research Excellence.

This year, the Idox Information Service will again be sponsoring the RTPI Sir Peter Hall Award for Wider Engagement, as well as the Student and Planning Consultancy Awards.

The closing date for applications to the awards is 31 May 2016. Further information and application forms are available here.

Idox sponsors RTPI research excellence awards

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Idox is pleased once again to be supporting the RTPI Awards for Research Excellence for 2016.

The awards are intended to:

  • recognise the best spatial planning research from Royal Town Planning Institute accredited planning schools
  • highlight the implications of academic research for policy and practice
  • recognise the valuable contribution of planning consultancies to planning research
  • promote planning research generally

Submitted research and its potential implications for planning policy and practice can relate to anywhere in the world (not just the UK and Ireland).  The five award categories are:

  • Academic Award
  • Early Career Researcher Award
  • Student Award
  • Sir Peter Hall Award for Wider Engagement
  • Planning Consultancy Award

As the UK’s leading provider of planning and building control solutions to local authorities, Idox actively engages with issues affecting the planning profession. Here at the Idox Information Service, we see our core mission as improving decision making in public policy, by improving access to research and evidence, and we are proud to be playing a part in these awards to promote academic, researcher and student excellence in this area.

This is the second time that Idox has given its support to the RTPI Awards for Research Excellence. In 2015, we sponsored the Student Award, won by Emma Thorpe, a student in the School of Planning and Geography at Cardiff University. Idox also sponsored the Sir Peter Hall Award for Wider Engagement Award, won by Dr Paul Cowie from Newcastle University’s School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape. Next month, Paul Cowie will be making a guest contribution to our blog to describe the impact of winning the RTPI award.

This year, Idox will again be sponsoring the Student and Wider Engagement awards, as well as the Planning Consultancy award.

The closing date for applications to the awards is 31 May 2016. Further information and application forms are available here.


The Idox Information Service is the first port of call for information and knowledge on public and social policy and practice. For 40 years the service has been saving its members time and money, and helping them to make more informed decisions, improve frontline services and understand the policy environment. For more information see: http://informationservice.idoxgroup.com

In partnership with RTPI, the Idox Information Service has introduced an individual membership offer, which provides a 30% discount on the normal price.

Supporting professional practice within planning … how the Knowledge Exchange helps

wordle3By Morwen Johnson

The Idox Information Service has been offering an information service for planners and other built environment professionals for forty years. Our new individual subscription offer allows planners to benefit from our expertise and acess a wide range of resources for use in their work and continuing professional development.

Use of evidence within planning

“Research and theory can help to lift the perspective of practitioners beyond the day-to-day demands of the job, to provoke reflection and discussion about the wider social purposes and values of planning. It can also help us better to defend planning from those who would seek to erode it further.”

These words from Dr Mike Harris, Deputy Head of Policy and Research at the Royal Town Planning Institute, highlight the importance of ensuring that the planning profession is able to access and use evidence and research. Research is inherent to what it means to be a professional – to take informed, evidence-based decisions.

Barriers to the use of research

Like other professions, planners face barriers to keeping up with the latest evidence – most obviously lack of time and the accessibility of much research (both in terms of knowing it is out there and being able to understand how academic reserach relates to practice).

With resources in local planning authorities in particular likely to remain very tight, but with practitioners under more pressure to deliver than ever, the question is how can the profession retain and enhance the evidence base it needs to do its job effectively? And how can practitioners engage with the research and analysis on key developments in policy that affect planning, such as devolution, economic growth, sustainability and housing?

Cross-cutting issues

It was clear at this year’s RTPI Convention that the planning profession has a significant contribution to make to current policy priorities such as improving wellbeing, sustainability and economic growth. Understanding these wider debates and engaging with them effectively, in a way that positions planners as a solution to a problem rather than a barrier, is something that is crucial for the future of the profession.

Reflecting recently on this year’s Association of European Schools of Planning (AESOP) research conference, the RTPI’s Mike Harris suggested that “we urgently need the academic community to help us demonstrate how planning can produce better, more efficient markets for local development, in ways which promote growth and meet social and environmental objectives”.

New, exclusive offer for planners

In response to demand from planners to access research, evidence, opinion and commentary on both planning and wider cross-cutting issues, we have introduced a new individual membership offer to our Information Service, exclusively for RTPI Members.

Individual membership provides RTPI members with access to:

  • Searchable online database of planning research resources with over 200,000 records and with 10,000 new items added every year;
  • Free access to member-only briefings on key planning topics;
  • 50 current awareness bulletins per year;
  • Twice-monthly topic updates – choose from over 32 topics including planning, regeneration, economic development, management, architecture, transport and community development;
  • Free user support to help planners find and access the research they need;
  • Book loans and copyright material are available on request (subject to additional charges).

The annual subscription of £179 (plus VAT) represents a 30% saving on the cost of the normal rate for individuals.

We’re happy to be working with the RTPI to enhance professional knowledge and intelligence at a crucial time for planning, and we look forward to welcoming more RTPI members as subscribers to our service.


To find out more about what we cover, read our planning subject guide.

You can find out more about the offer for Institute members on the RTPI website.

The new politics for planning

rtpi brochure coverThe 2015 RTPI Planning Convention was held last week and was attended by over 450 people keen to discuss the future of the profession and the planning system following the UK general election. Just two days after the conference, the government published its ‘productivity plan’ setting out wide-reaching changes to planning, and highlighting the importance that is being placed on planning as a channel (or barrier) to economic growth.

While Idox were at the conference exhibition in order to demonstrate the new i-Apply combined online planning and building control submissions service, our Knowledge Exchange team were at the convention itself.

A call to arms

During the day there were a range of sessions exploring the delivery of planning at different spatial scales as well as the need for planners to engage with other professions and policy areas. Janet Askew, RTPI President, argued that we “must persuade people that planners are good for places” while Eugénie Birch issued a rallying call, saying “we have a chance to advocate, a chance to be bold”.

Probably the session that created the most buzz was Waheed Nazir describing the journey that the planning team in Birmingham City Council have been on. The need for strong, visionary leaders within the profession, echoes the conclusion of a recent OECD Forum on local economic development which explored the new skill set needed to be a good local leader.

Waheed suggested that “process has overtaken the creativity of the profession”. Planners need to “liberate themselves from well-intended bureaucracy”. In terms of providing leadership, two key aspects are setting the vision and then enabling delivery. By trusting staff and empowering them to deliver the agenda which had been agreed, Waheed felt that they had been able to do things which wouldn’t have been possible otherwise. The Curzon masterplan and Birmingham’s Big City Plan were showcased as examples.

New ways of planning

In the afternoon, the practicalities of current planning were explored in sessions on strategic planning and neighbourhood planning. Neighbourhood planning was identified as a powerful set of tools but audience questions suggested some disquiet. Neighbourhood plans, where they are being developed, seem to support stronger community identity but are still operating in their own bubble. As the spatial scale increases, the level of public participation in planning decreases – so the learning from neighbourhood plans needs to be fed back into Local Plan development.

Planning for our children’s children’s children

In terms of strategic planning sessions, there was a big emphasis on thinking long term. Pam Ewen talked about whether we do enough long term, strategic thinking. Do we think big enough or take enough risks? We don’t just create planning documents as an end in themselves – they are investment and marketing tools to galvinise action. Reflecting on the theme of leadership, Pam also highlighted the need to see developing a strategic plan as a project in its own right; clear direction, objective and communication were vital to the plan’s success.

This was echoed by Richard Blyth who also emphasised the need for cross-boundary cooperation, which brings mutual benefits and the need for greater collaboration across housing, health and education.

Challenges for the profession

The final session looked at the politics and challenges facing the profession. Michael Edwards highlighted that planning is a profession committed to serving the whole of society. Planners have to work within the policy framework, but take account of the wishes of society and strive to reflect on the good and bad plans and outcomes.

Leading the placemaking agenda

Overall the day tied planning into wider cross-cutting issues such as sustainability and wellbeing. Vincent Goodstadt, a past President of the RTPI, summed up when he said we “need a broader, proactive view of planning to help maximise its economic and social value”. What was surprising therefore was how little reference was explicitly made to devolution.

If the planning profession is really to lead and shape the debate on the future approach to place-making then this needs addressed. Otherwise the risk is that riding on the coat-tails of the economic agenda (especially when the government is inferring in its reforms that we need ‘less planning’ to enable growth) may take the planning system in a direction that planners would rather not go.

Knowledge Insider: a Q&A with Michael Harris from the RTPI

rtpiIn the latest of our series of Q&As with leading advocates of the use of evidence in policymaking and practice, we talk to Michael Harris, Deputy Head of Research at the Royal Town Planning Institute. The RTPI holds a unique position in relation to planning as a professional membership body, a charity and a learned institute. They have a responsibility to promote the research needs of spatial planning in the UK, Ireland and internationally. They add to the evidence base through in-house research and policy analysis, for example their Policy papers. We interviewed Michael about the research issues facing the planning profession.

Michael, how do you think planners benefit from developing their knowledge and use of evidence?

I think all professions need to be evidence based, it’s the core of being a professional, and it enables you to perform your role, not just on a judgement but an expert professional one. This is the first way planners can benefit; keeping on top of what’s the best available evidence ensures you are effective. All professions have innovators, those who get things done and make changes, and learning from them and using their experience through case studies, best practice and collaboration ensures their good practice gets pushed out to the whole profession and that’s the core benefit of using evidence.

The second benefit is getting the bigger picture, ensuring you understand the major economic, social and environmental challenges. Such as how to create growth, achieve sustainable development, and understand the impact of aging and climate change. All these need new thinking, innovation, and cross discipline knowledge – the best way to do this is through evidence and research.

I work with policy makers to inform policy, and I constantly challenge the perception that planners are an inhibitor of growth. Evidence of the impact and the value which planners add to the growth of places, helps me challenge this perception and benefits the profession as a whole.

What are the main issues facing planners in the next 5 years? What evidence will they need?

The main challenges are:

  • Resources, having less and less and being asked to do more and more. How do we deal with those demands – evidence and sharing of best practice can play a critical role, we can learn from others, and other professions. How do you move from just evaluating what you do based on efficiency and cutting costs to ensuring effectiveness, and improving the impact and outcome of what you are doing? Evidence can help you stop just thinking about efficiency and also take account of effectiveness.
  • Demonstrating the value of planning – we need to make a stronger case for the economic, social and environmental role of planners, and not be characterised as processors. Planners carry out a key role in shaping the world around us, not simply managing a process, and the challenge is to continue to demonstrate this.
  • Ensuring local participation and being more strategic, operating across boundaries, especially for issues such as flooding. It’s difficult for planners to act strategically if the political support isn’t there. There needs to be a will there to enable planners to be truly effective. None the less, a key duty of a professional is to promote understanding; the only way we can do this well, is to work more effectively across boundaries.

My sense is that practitioners value examples of where other authorities have achieved more. Where strategic planning has worked and how you can make it work, or where someone has dealt with limited resources or sustainable development. Case studies are a core strand of accessible evidence, but many are buried in academic research or journals and the RTPI / Idox Information Service are really good at finding them and making them easier to access. This need will only grow greater as more and more information is produced.

In terms of data needs for the future, what we are increasingly seeing potential from is “Big Data”, for example we can make connections between health, social mobility and environment. In the next 5 or 10 years we will be able to draw on these big data sets, which will be a very powerful tool for planners in making decisions about places, and having a strategic, holistic approach to development.

When people talk to you about evidence, research or knowledge, what do they most frequently raise as issues?

The big challenge is time – planners haven’t got time to go looking for evidence – and accessibility of research papers, which are buried in academic journals. The academic language is a barrier, and its timeliness. Often it’s interesting to read but doesn’t relate to the current policy context, so research needs to be more timely and more practical and applied. Alongside time, support from their organisations to look at evidence – the access to evidence resources and time or budget to attend CPD is frequently raised as an issue.

Not enough research is accessible; academic incentives aren’t about applicability; it’s driven by the need to be of a high standard, set by other academics and journals. It is possible to do academic work which is useable and there are lots of good examples, but there are barriers for the academic to deal with. There is good academic research which is relevant but it’s difficult to find. There are also issues about the subjects covered and academic’s interest versus policy maker’s priorities – sometimes there are overlaps but often they are very different.

For example Value of Planning is a key policy issue at the moment – what is the economic impact of planning – but academics don’t see this as an issue as they are already positive about planning. They take for granted that planners have an impact, so don’t see the need to investigate the nature and form of that impact.

What are the hard-to-spot mistakes when it comes to developing your knowledge, things you which you really need to avoid?

Two things I would highlight. Given what the constraints are, it’s easy to rely on an old body of evidence, what you were taught when you were being trained, and not keeping it up to date. That’s why Idox Information Service and RTPI research, especially practice notes which are aimed at helping practitioners refresh knowledge and keep up to date, are essential.

There is also a danger of being too narrow, and not looking at wider areas and topics which affect planning. This creates a narrower perspective on development. Briefing services are really helpful to overcome this, looking at a variety of reports and papers – you can look at the areas you are interested in directly, but you can also scan the broader perspective. Planning should be about not thinking in silos, but how does ‘this’ affect ‘that’ – how can people travel to work, access jobs or get outdoors and you need to think about and be exposed to broader ideas to understand these issues.

Thinking ‘economically’ is something we are trying to promote, not just the traditional way, but our argument is that planning is critical to the economic success of places; it can make them more attractive, livelier, sustainable, and environmentally appealing, so it’s the broader contribution to success that is important. Every planning decision contributes to the success of a place.

How do you think people will be doing evidence, research and knowledge development in 5 years’ time?

I would like to see a profession known for its evidence-based practice, with practitioners able to find, and understand, in an accessible way, the latest evidence.

The future should be where academic research is more and more accessible and applicable to practice having a real impact on delivery. Collaboration between practitioners and researchers makes research more relevant. Projects which have come out of these partnerships have real impact and RTPI will be supporting these projects in the future.

If you had a list of ‘best-kept secrets’ about research, evidence and knowledge you would recommend, what would you include and why?

So much stuff out there, how do you find out what’s going on? Social media and twitter is an incredibly useful research tool – following research organisations, following blogs, can be really useful. Knowledge isn’t static any more, and things you read only 5 years ago can be quite out of date now, and planners need to continually keep up to date. The RTPI and Idox blogs are good in terms of wide-ranging coverage and highlighting latest research but there are plenty out there.

What led you to a role in research and evidence development? 

I did a PhD in politics and public policy, was always more interested in how you can make research more relevant and of interest to policy makers, but I am also aware of the barriers for academics doing this.

I have always sat in organisations that do this bridging. RTPI, as a learned society is doing this for its members. Research is important, but only important if it’s communicated and people can act on it, otherwise it is lost and never read. I see myself as facilitating its use and contribution to change and improvement in practice.

Academic research being read is vital, but academics need to understand the policy constraints, and the importance of making a compelling argument to change practice and policy today.


 

The Idox Information Service has introduced an exclusive offer for RTPI members to help them with their evidence needs.

This year Idox is also sponsoring the RTPI Research Excellence Awards, recognising and promoting high quality spatial planning research.

Find out more about our work supporting planners on our website.