What now for the future of planning?

How do we plan the places of tomorrow? Where is the digitisation of the planning system taking us? What skills will the planner of the future need? And how is COVID-19 changing how we think about the places where we live, work and travel?

In this first – extended – episode of Connected Places, Professor Greg Clark speaks to the most recent Chief Planner for England, Steve Quartermain CBE as well as the Chief Planner for Singapore, Hwang Yu-Ning. We also meet Darshana Chauhan, Founder of Coplug, a UK company specialising in social infrastructure demand management, and Nissa Shahid, Senior Urbanist and Chartered Planner at the Connected Places Catapult.

Music on this episode is by Blue Dot Sessions and Phill Ward Music (www.phillward.com)

Show notes

Steve Quartermain CBE recently stepped down as Chief Planner at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government after 12 years in the role. His career in local government has included Epping Forrest, Dartford and Yorkshire and he has also served as President of the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI).

Hwang Yu-Ning is the Deputy Chief Executive and Chief Planner at the Urban Redevelopment Authority in Singapore. Yu-Ning has also held senior positions in Singapore’s National Ministry of Development and the Prime Minister’s Office. She also serves as governing trustees on the Urban Land Institute (ULI) and co-chairs ULI Singapore’s Women’s Leadership Initiative.

Darshana Gothi Chauhan is founder of Coplug, a qualified architect and urban designer with a specialisation in spatial data analytics, digital frameworks, and citizen-centred design. She is also the founder of DesTech – a competition that brings together creative thinking and digital innovation in the built environment, with an outreach in over 200 colleges and universities across South Asia.

Nissa Shahid is a Senior Urbanist at the Connected Places Catapult, and a Chartered Planner, where she specialises in spatial data, GIS applications, planning policy and strategy development. She has worked across the private and third sectors and played a key role in the Catapult’s early work on PlanTech.

We also mentioned the shared vision and principles of the future of planning that we developed with the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI). You can read more here about the vision and its underpinning principles.

For more information about the UK Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government’s proposals to reform the planning system, click here.

To find out more about what we do at the Connected Places Catapult, visit our homepage for the latest news, events and announcements. And please sign up to our newsletter!

Interview notes

Steve Quartermain

COVID impact on planning in the UK

  • Some things have happened over night which would normally take years, i.e. virtual planning committees
  • New modes of remote working and commuting, will CBDs still operate the same way, will we need local hubs, is this a chance to revitalise the high street?
  • Increase of pedestrianisation, new cycle ways, new appreciation for public open space
  • Opportunity to not go back, but capture the benefits of these changes

UK government’s white paper

  • Speed and certainty is underlying the changes the government wants to make
  • It’s hard to defend a planning system that takes 7 years to produce a local plan
  • The government is trying to make planning quicker and more flexible
  • The downside is a move towards deregulation which needs to be more thoroughly examined; i.e. new permitted development rights and the town centre use Class E
  • The consequences of these changes have yet to play out; there is a question over local control

Digitisation of the planning system

  • Digital element is the most exciting part of the white paper
  • There’s an opportunity to use data and modelling more effectively across the entire country
  • The development of apps and platforms for engaging more people in the planning process
  • The challenge is developing common data sets, common language, standardisation of information

Implications for future decision making

  • Digitisation is not just a top-down tool for planner or politicians, but technology can enable greater public access to planning information
  • New opportunities to use mobile technology and social media to engage people
  • People talk about planning all the time, but in the past we haven’t made it accessible to them
  • This is a chance to be more transparent in how we do planning

What will the planner of the future need to do their job?

  • A good planner has good communication skills
  • Digital skills for the new generation are inherent and the new planners will readily rise to the task
  • The challenge for politicians and transparency is consultations are not empty vessels
  • We don’t consult to tell people want we are going to do, we consult to take account of people’s views so they can influence what needs to be done
  • The skills to be able respond the views of people and essential for planners and need to be strengthened – moving beyond the binary of for or against
Hwang Yu-Ning

COVID impact on Singapore – what it means for land use and agility

  • Ridership for public buses dropped by 75%, and 84% for public transit.
  • Growing need for CBD to have more mixed uses for the living-in population
  • A growing need for improving the convenience and accessibility of neighbourhoods

What does the future of planning look like?

  • The purpose of planning will remain, but the issues and tools will evolve
  • Innovating the art and science of planning to improve evidence base
  • The importance of sharing insights with stakeholder and communities
  • Navigating new complexities as the pace and complexity of change in cities grows

How is the digitisation of planning emerging?

  • Important not to overlook the importance of creating liveable communities for people
  • Data and technology should serve the main outcomes that urban planning is seeking to achieve
  • It’s not a question of how can we make civic life more efficient with technology but how we can use technology to make civic life more meaningful: The Smart Enough City by Ben Green.
  • Digitisation is not an outcome in itself but rather a tool for better living and better cities

What skills does the planner of the future need?

  • Agility is absolutely key: understanding new trends, engaging stakeholders, constantly reskills throughout their career
  • The fundamental role of a planner is to synthesise insights and then share multiple possible visons
  • Consulting with, understanding and anticipating the needs of local communities
  • More technological tools could actually make planners more creative

What does the future of strategic planning look like for Singapore?

  • Historically, Singapore was a key beneficiary of the UN Development Programme
  • The plan is more a process than an end product
  • Planning as an approach is just as important as planning as an outcome
  • “All plans are wrong but some plans are useful”