SURF Awards winners: success stories in Scottish regeneration

Promotional materials from the SURF Awards 2015

Image by Steven McGinty

By Steven McGinty

I recently attended a workshop highlighting three winning projects from the 2015 SURF Awards, an annual ceremony which recognises best practice and innovation in community regeneration in Scotland.

Kilmarnock

The day began with a presentation from the winners of ‘Scotland’s Most Improved Large Town’, Kilmarnock. From the outset, Karl Doroszenko the Development Planning & Regeneration Manager at East Ayrshire Council acknowledged that Kilmarnock had gone through some hard times, remarking that most people would associate the town with words such as ‘failing’, ‘deprived’, and ‘unemployment blackspot’.

However, for Karl, the town has a lot to be confident about. In 2005, East Ayrshire Council introduced a strategy to revitalise Kilmarnock town centre. A key part of this strategy was introducing the ‘Town Centre First Principle’, an approach which encouraged the council to locate their offices to the town centre. It also included a commitment to valuing local heritage, and over £21 million was invested in heritage buildings, including the former Opera House, which is now a modern office building for local council staff.

A Community Worker in East Ayrshire Council also provided his views on community engagement. In his words, ‘you either do it or you don’t’, highlighted the need to genuinely listen to stakeholders (businesses, voluntary organisations, and the local community) and to deliver for people. He also noted the importance of trying new ideas, and accepting that not all of these will be a success.

Barrhead

Barrhead, winner of ‘Scotland’s Most Improved Small/Medium Town’, had some notable similarities to Kilmarnock. For instance, Barrhead also incorporated a Town Centre First approach into its regeneration strategy – although implementation was more complicated due to the town’s fragmented centre.

But Barrhead also had its own unique set of challenges. In particular, political buy-in was difficult to achieve at times, with regeneration programmes often competing with other priorities such as education. Unfortunately, Barrhead also suffered from being a disadvantaged area within an affluent council (East Renfrewshire), sitting alongside areas such as Clarkston, Newtown Mearns and Giffnock. This limited the town’s impact when applying for external sources of funding.

Despite these challenges, Barrhead has had a number of successes, including:

  • A new £14 million health centre
  • The investment of £1.4 million in improving the public realm
  • The opening of a new £22 million town square and town square superstore
  • A new community facility, the Barrhead Foundry, which includes a sports centre, library, conference centre, and employability and business hub

Laurieston’s ‘Open Spaces’

The Open Spaces project, run by arts organisation WAVEparticle in partnership with New Gorbals Housing Association, was the winner of SURF’s ‘Creative Regeneration’ award. The artist-led initiative complements a major housing development in the Gorbals area of Glasgow, making a diverse set of buildings and open spaces – such as the Caledonia Road Church – temporarily available for creative uses.

The initiative is providing existing and new residents with opportunities to engage with a variety of creative projects. This has resulted in a number of benefits for the community, including:

  • attractive heritage-based cultural facilities and public artworks
  • improved community cohesion
  • enhanced urban connectivity
  • a greater feeling of ‘pride of place’

Debate

The presentations provided inspiration for a lively debate between delegates.

Unsurprisingly, many individuals highlighted the challenges of declining public funds for regeneration programmes. There was also criticism of the short term nature of funding (two or three year periods), particularly as there was general agreement that it takes decades to see the impact of regeneration projects.

However, some of the participants suggested that this might provide an opportunity as local government has realised that they cannot do everything. Delegates noted that this could result in a greater role for the third sector, as well as increased community consultation.

Interestingly, a senior member of Glasgow City Council, gave what he called ‘a plea for understanding’, explaining that although the council would have less funding available, it did not mean they were any less committed to improving the lives of residents. He highlighted that organisations should view the council as a ‘friendly partner’ and that partnership was key to achieving change.

Delegates also discussed the conflict between overarching national strategies and locally led approaches to regeneration. It was suggested we need to ‘think nationally’ as there are too many short term projects there are never embedded into practice or strategy. Others argued that regeneration needs to focus on local people, and that not enough is being done to support a community led approach.

One delegate also used the rather inspirational phrase ‘transfer of human energy’. This refers to the positive impact that community members can have on each other if provided with the right opportunities, such as through creative projects.

Final thoughts

The workshop was well attended and brought together a broad range of individuals, from town planners to local artists. However, what they all had in common was a desire to improve the health and well-being of residents in Scotland’s most disadvantaged communities.


The Knowledge Exchange provides information services to local authorities, public agencies, research consultancies and commercial organisations across the UK. Follow us on Twitter to see what developments in policy and practice are interesting our research team. 

The changing landscape of planning: views from the Scottish Planning and Environmental Law Conference 2015

The Scottish Planning and Environmental Law Journal (SPEL) held its annual conference in Edinburgh on 17th September. This year’s theme was “the changing landscape of planning”.

Rebecca Jackson, 2015

Photo: Rebecca Jackson

The death of strategic planning?

The keynote speech of this year’s conference was delivered by Professor Greg Lloyd, Emeritus Professor of Urban Planning, Ulster University. He outlined a concept of ‘landscapes of planning’, taking delegates on a whistle-stop tour of what he viewed as the four landscapes of modern planning: post WWII; post 1979; post 1997; and post 2011.

This reflected a journey from post-war social democratic principles, to immature new liberalism under Thatcher, to a third way synthesis under Blairite Labour and what he described as ‘pure unadulterated Neoliberalism’ post-recession.

Professor Lloyd argued that we will soon be transitioning into a fifth landscape which may see the ‘de-coupling of capitalism and democracy’; as the state becomes smaller and more interested in pursuing private rather than public interest (he specifically referenced books by Mason, 2015 and Streck, 2014).

He emphasised the need for planners to be aware of these transitions and for the profession to attempt to remove itself from the current path dependent, money driven culture. Otherwise it would result, he argued, in “reactionary, short term planning; the death of strategic planning and the rise of the know nothing school.”

Unconventional gas … a need to build public trust

The second topic of the morning was a discussion about planning’s future relationship with energy, particularly unconventional gas. Public controversy in the UK over fracking has received considerable news coverage in the last few months. The Scottish Government also announced in January a moratorium on granting planning consents for unconventional oil and gas developments, including fracking, while further research and a public consultation are carried out.

Tom Pickering from INEOS Upstream presented on INEOS specific practices, while Sandy Telfer, DLA Piper Scotland, discussed the impact of increased regulation on the contamination of water supply at shale drilling sites in Pennsylvania.

The key thing to come out of these presentations, and the questions from the floor which followed, was the emphasis on education and making information accessible to members of the public to gain their trust on the subject of fracking and horizontal drilling.

Rebecca Jackson, 2015

Photo: Rebecca Jackson

Linking community and spatial planning …”it’s not rocket science”

Following a quick coffee break the next session was delivered by Nick Wright, Principal, Nick Wright Planning and Karl Doroszenko, development planning and regeneration manager at East Ayrshire Council. They spoke on community planning and spatial planning in Scotland and how it should, and can, work effectively to deliver better services for communities.

Nick Wright gave an update on research by the RTPI on the benefit of linking spatial and community planning. This was followed by Karl Doroszenko who spoke about the experience of East Ayrshire Council and the creation of their community planning partnership.

The presentations provided a useful insight for delegates, particularly planners, as to how they could integrate shared planning into their practices. Karl spoke at length about cooperation and the benefit this had on delivering services for the local community in East Ayrshire.

Just before lunch there was the first round up of Planning Case Law delivered by Maurice O’Carroll, Advocate at Terra Firma Chambers.

Priorities and game changers in the next parliament … “planners have an important role to play”

The afternoon session began with Stefano Smith, Vice Convenor of RTPI Scotland, looking at priorities and game changers in the next Parliament. He spoke of the need for planners to discuss and engage with the 2016 election in Scotland. It is planners themselves who need to take responsibility for promoting the importance of planners and planning in order to generate public discussion about the planning system.

He identified 7 key themes which the RTPI believe should shape how planning is approached in the next parliament. He emphasised the necessity for planning to realise its full potential and to work towards key priorities to deliver planning effectively.

Rebecca Jackson, 2015. Stefano Smith addresses the conference.

Photo: Rebecca Jackson, 2015. Stefano Smith addresses the conference.

“We need radical change, centred on land use and management”

Following Stefano Smith, three speakers considered the priority actions of land use and delivering land for new homes in Scotland. Blair Melville of Turley began by outlining the housing situation in Scotland. He commented that planners are using the economy as an excuse not to plan effectively for housing but that this should not be the way forward for planning in Scotland.

Robin Holder, MD of HolderPlanning then reflected on whether planning was helping or hindering the delivery of housing. Housing land supply has been an eternal argument for planners, which has led to a large shortfall in housing supply. He suggested a new approach where there is a move away from regional Strategic Development Plans and Main Issues Reports, which he saw as a drag on the planning process, in favour of local community-based development plans which could be consulted on instead.

Professor David Adams rounded off the discussion and put it to delegates that they should be taking a more radical approach to land use in order to reform planning. He commented that planners need to rediscover the fundamental link between use of land and planning. He looked specifically at the Land Reform Review Group and their suggestions on Compulsory Sale Orders and the creation of a new Housing Land Corporation for Scotland in the proposals being considered currently in the 2015 Land Reform Bill.

Rebecca Jackson, 2015. Speakers take questions from the floor

Rebecca Jackson, 2015. Speakers take questions from the floor

Continuous improvement in the planning system

The final session of the afternoon was given by David Leslie, Acting Head of Planning and Building Standards at Edinburgh City Council who gave his reflections on continuous improvement in the planning system in Scotland and how joint working and innovation in future projects can drive planning forward. He commented that both transformational and cultural improvement is needed to promote effective planning.

Finally there was a second roundup of planning case law delivered by Alasdair Sutherland, an advocate at Terra Firma Chambers.

What is the future of planning in Scotland?

A key message which emerged regularly throughout the day was the question of consultation: how do planners strike the balance between consulting fully with a community and creating a quick planning process which sees decisions reached quickly and clearly.

Another was the question of land in Scotland and how we can maximise its use to help achieve the outcomes set out in the national planning framework.

A third key theme was how local communities can be integrated into the planning system more – are community planning partnerships the way forward or is there another way?

And finally how do we review and evaluate planning – should central government be taking a greater role in ensuring that outcomes are met and concerns of the public are taken into account?

The day provided an opportunity for individuals involved in the planning sector to get together to share ideas and understanding about how planning in Scotland should work and the changing nature and demands of planning. The topics covered drew together a diverse range of themes, and it was good to see delegates and speakers interacting and debating. As the planning process in Scotland continues to adapt to meet new challenges in the future, it’s clear that Scottish Planning and Environmental Law Journal will remain at the forefront of commentary and insight.


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Knowledge Insider: Creating new cultures and successfully using evidence in planning, with Waheed Nazir, Birmingham City Council

Waheed nazir blogLocal authorities face many challenges when it comes to creating successful places. In this Q&A I speak to Waheed Nazir, Director of Planning and Regeneration at Birmingham City Council. I find out how his infectious enthusiasm for shaping and leading a skilled planning team has impacted on research and evidence.

Waheed, can you describe the situation and challenges you faced leading regeneration activity in Birmingham?

There was incredible talent but a lot of silo working. Even though we had a whole planning department, the functions were all separate, including housing and economic development – all well intended and trying to achieve things for Birmingham, but there wasn’t a bigger picture of what we were trying to create.

Taking over a department just as we were entering into recession, with a 40% cost reduction target and a requirement for outsourcing, was a challenge, so rather than tackle them separately I brought all those areas together. I used those drivers to develop a new approach. I wanted to create a working environment based on common sense and the main objectives were:

1. Breaking down barriers
2. Achieve savings, due to reducing the number of managers
3. Develop my staff and utilise their skills at all levels.

I needed strategic planners who understand and appreciate the local level market, and I wanted all professions, like planning control, involved in doing the policy. Applying real life knowledge and experience, and using the strength of the different disciplines to develop real talent.

By doing this, although we had a 40% budget reduction, overall performance has gone the other way, because individual performance has improved so much. Staff who have left since, have gone on to do really well elsewhere as lead planners, and that’s my real achievement, that the plan put in place created successful staff.

Although resources were reducing, our capacity increased, because from a regeneration perspective, in recession you aren’t firefighting with developers. As development activity slows, it’s important to use that time efficiently, to put in place the strategic documents and the structure you need for when activity returns. It’s a time to reskill staff and to invest in them, so all documents were written in-house. I developed a new ethos and culture, and gave them the documents to own and develop – this is the biggest learning experience.

In 2011/12 I concentrated on organisational structure, roles and new direction – which focused on delivery. I wanted us to create a model of how we will deliver the big city plan which everyone bought into and understood. We worked extensively with government departments to take forward funding tools like EZ [enterprise zones], which now in place gives us funding to support infrastructure up to £1billion and we have already committed £275m.

Population growth was the other big challenge facing the region; forecasts have changed and keep being revised up, the latest increasing by 150,000. As a result we need to do as much housing development as we can. I was not the biggest fan of the RSS (Regional Spatial Strategy) but it did provide a means of allocating land for housing, which was lost on a more strategic basis.

What were the key tasks essential to creating your success?

  • Vision is absolutely critical to what we are trying to achieve. Being able to articulate what you are trying to achieve is vital to getting everyone on board.
  • Leadership – you have to be willing to make very difficult decisions, which can be unpopular. Strong leadership is key to delivery. People leave because of bad processes and lack of leadership, so I encourage leadership across the team – if the policy or process is wrong then change it and replace it, and people administering it are often the ones best placed to see this.
  • The right structure to deliver the vision. Making sure you have the right range of skills and different types of planner, with different perspectives and approaches, and with the right approach to challenging. Pick people who are better than you to complement your strengths. I developed our own graduate programme to grow our own high quality staff with these qualities.
  • Focus on who the customer is, and what the process they have to deal with is actually doing. For instance, ‘if I am selling my house and can’t find my application’ – we scraped the charging fee as it’s easy to do, not labour intensive and really helps the customer out for very little effort. The places we change and the people we service are the important thing.
  • Never thinking things are impossible. Forget the process, forget the funding, what are we trying to achieve and how do we do it? Keep the customer at the heart at it all.

What did you put in place and what actions did you take?

I changed the department structure and developed the attitude of always thinking “it’s never finished”. I developed the approach of looking to other places – the best research is in other places, UK and globally, always looking for both the good and bad. I established working with the private sector, embracing the ideas of private equity. The first 2 years was about getting the house in order, and the 3rd and 4th year are about working with the private sector. It’s about building mutual respect, and giving them confidence to invest in Birmingham. Developing a two way process so they get a perspective on our roles and we get a better perspective on theirs.

I also run the Birmingham Housing Municipal Trust, so we build housing and know what it takes to build it. This helps you appreciate the challenges the private sector is facing. It’s not rocket science, but it is about knowing the market, and being able to be confident about getting a fair deal for the city and also knowing if developers can’t deliver, I can help them.

As a housing development company, we were struggling with finding the right sites. It’s a big job to work out where the sites are, but for the market outside it’s even more difficult, without the local knowledge. So we developed a prospectus for sites, including constraints, sites, services etc and on the back of this, helped bring about 2000 homes forward. It was easy to bring together, helps developers with research and introduction fees, and they can easily spot the sites and who to contact.

Other benefits have been created which we didn’t expect by working closely with developers. If they can see the purpose, such as industrial land being brought forward, they are willing to pay more attention to section 106 and provide employment or apprenticeships because of good working relationships.

How can policy makers/practitioners benefit from developing their knowledge and use of evidence?

The type of evidence we use can be very different depending on the activity – the local plan is very different to the big city plan. For a local plan you need scale of projections and development opportunities, technical evidence on transport etc.

Although I always like work to be carried out internally to grow and retain knowledge, sometimes it is necessary to commission research externally, to be independent, check our understanding, and refresh it. Market evidence and financial modelling of impact, alongside economic modelling of the benefits are vital, but as planners we don’t articulate this very well – it starts and stops with place, but actually its long term, structural and widespread change that we need.

I don’t bring consultants in to just take intelligence from staff – we use them for new things and to fill gaps in my own staff’s knowledge and ensure knowledge is transferred. I like to liberate staff, show them they can do it, that they have the talent and energy to make change happen – that’s important and personal knowledge enables that to happen.

Planners need to make sure there is a strong evidence base to look at the overall locality, creating localised solutions, using projections and indicators, i.e. rents data or government locations. Evidence needs to balance with vision. It’s about being brave and ambitious about the art of the possible.

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

The biggest change will be building modelling into the evidence base, such as economic modelling to test impact, capacity, and income. Modelling the impact of new policies and what they actually do, such as the new homes bonus. We will continue to do traditional evidence work, but increasing the cross-policy integration and impact analysis of issues, such as climate change or flooding, using better data, which all has to be part of the impact measurement.

What are the mistakes people make when it comes to developing evidence, things you which you really need to avoid?

Understanding the quality of what’s out there – knowing how to ask the right question is how you get the right answer. It’s the first, and most important, stage. This means getting the brief right, otherwise you’re in the situation of ‘that’s what you have commissioned’ so can’t change it easily.

When you are commissioning, build in flexibility, the ability to change the work to reflect the changing outputs of the research and the development of the findings and the new questions it raises. You need scope to look at projections which aren’t slavish to past trends, which can reflect the vision you are trying to create, not just tell you about the current state of play. These days all local authorities have lost the evidence base teams they used to have so building that skill set through the whole team is vital.

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

Take graduates and train them, round their experience in all the areas, including the private sector – develop the future of the profession by creating good planners.

Surround yourself with people who are better than you, their collective strength reflects well on you and it creates the best results for the place.

Be Bold! Fortune favours the brave and the bold, we have a big responsibility and we have to be brave for the places we look after.


 

This article is one of a series looking at how evidence is used in practice. Read our interviews with our previous ‘Knowledge Insiders’ …

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.