2012 has been the year to bash the planners. Much of it has been unwelcome, unhelpful and insensitive to the issues being faced in planning departments everywhere.
Although working across the country, NLP Newcastle office’s work is focussed mostly in the North and North East. As we go into 2013 we feel it is worth looking back and celebrating the excellent work of North East planners this year. Not everything is perfect, but, by and large our perceptions are that planners in the region are working damn hard in difficult circumstances to prepare and implement their plans. Plans which are clearly focussed on making the region a better place in 30 years time.
One of the toughest issues has been the loss of high quality skills, experience and personalities over the year. A raft of senior planners have left public sector (or the profession) this year including, Ken Wilson, Keith Lowes, Paul Dillon, Peter Brown, John Bell, Stephanie Linnell, David Leader, Kel Bevan, Barry Luccock, Steve Landells, Steve France and Chris Clarke – All great planners and good to work with.
It feels churlish to pick out individuals and departments who appear, from a purely private sector perspective, to be doing great work. But similarly NLP feel it is wrong that the good work we are aware of goes unnoticed.
From our perspective, the recent restructuring in Northumberland is making a big difference. The arrival of Joanne Garrick to lead the policy function is a good appointment at a time when huge spatial issues need to be addressed. We certainly look forward to seeing Joanne and her team develop a growth plan for such a large and varied county. In Newcastle, Harvey Emms, supported by Kath Lawless, Nicola Woodward and Peter Cockbain are good to work with, and exactly the same is to be said of Paul Dowling, Anneleise Hutchinson and Andrew Hickie across the river in Gateshead. All 7 are supported by some really talented officers. Gateshead in particular appears to be the archetypal well run positive and efficient planning department. The North Tyneside planners are still battling valiantly against a difficult political backdrop (Tory Mayor/Labour Planning Committee) whilst in South Tyneside the speed of response in addressing the new spatial challenges – despite their full LDF package being adopted in April 2012 – typifies the efficiency evident since the introduction of the plan-led system in the early 1990’s. Andrea King and Ben Stubbs always bring great thinking and sound analysis to tough spatial issues.
In Sunderland, the scale of the cut’s has inevitably created uncertainty and difficulties but the change in culture since Colin Clarke took over has been transformational. The new openness and commitment to dialogue is fantastic driven by the likes of Neil Cole and Gary Clasper. Again the private sector look forward to being involved in driving forward a new, positive strategy for economic growth and housing.
In Durham the courageous leadership shown by George Garlick, Ian Thompson and Stuart Timmiss in identifying and delivering a really ambitious strategy needs applauding. Everyone -across all sectors and agencies – now need to help ensure the strategy is declared sound after public examination. Talented officers such as (inter-alia) Andrew Inch, Grant Foley and Carole Dillon are great to work with – tough but fair!
Regular readers know how highly NLP rates the planning teams in Tees Valley. In Middlesborough, the tough conditions have allowed talented planners to show their mettle. Kevin Parkes, Sharon Thomas, Paul Clarke and others work tirelessly making the spatial decisions to give the town a better future. Meanwhile Ernie Vickers must be the best DC Planner in history!! Exactly the same must be said for Greg Archer, Carole Straughan, Rosemary Young, Peter Shovlin and others in Stockton. Again, a tough but well run positive department and great to work with. Damian Wilson in Hartlepool, Richard Alty in Darlington and Phil Jones in Redcar all do great jobs aligning economic objectives with environmental objectives. The ‘hands on’ positive role from Damian in addressing the complex planning issues at Wynyard has been a breath of fresh air. Again – very tough but very fair!
It is crucially important to reiterate again the above comments have been limited by NLP’s experience last year. There is UNDOUBTEDLY many other great planners doing equally great work and we apologise for the inevitable omissions. Indeed it would be good if others feel able to either disagree or fill the gaps in response.
Finally, the nature of planning means there will always be skirmishes, disagreements and tough negotiations. However, with one or two exceptions, NLP sense the region’s planners (whether private, public or 3rd sector) all wish to work constructively in 2013 to make the right spatial decisions to improve the region for the next 30-50 years.
We should all raise a glass to ourselves – even if no-one else wants to!!