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Planners play a key role in the built environment – we must protect them

Date
06 December 2023

Simon Creer, director of communications at the Royal Town Planning Institute, talks about the 'It Takes Planner &' campaign.

Planners play a key role in the built environment – we must protect them
Planners play a central role in coordinating the delivery of infrastructure. Image credit: Shutterstock

It’s no secret that planners in public-facing roles face intimidation from the public. This has far-reaching consequences for the broader built environment sector.

During her presidential inauguration in January, Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) President Sue Bridge outlined her priorities for her upcoming presidential year.

Sue spoke of planning committee meetings where she had to call the police and of reports of chairs being thrown.

She shared the stories she, and the institute, were hearing of the increased harassment planners are receiving, particularly those working in local planning authorities.

She set out a goal to prioritise the welfare of planners.

Planners play a key role in the sector

Planners play a central role in coordinating the delivery of infrastructure to serve new and existing development.

They set conditions and raise revenue for infrastructure, and through place-leadership, they engage and coordinate across sectors and boundaries.

They play an essential role in delivering the infrastructure the UK so desperately needs, and engineers are keen to provide.

But harassment from the public is increasing the strain felt by local planning authorities.

Public harassment is widespread

A report from the RTPI in January revealed that 9 out of 10 planners in Wales have experienced harassment on the job.

While verbal abuse has sadly become an almost-expected part of planning committees, we were seeing an alarming number of cases bleeding into the personal lives of planners.

There have been reports of planners being approached in the street, or their pictures being taken and shared online.

The role of social media

The rise of social media has further exacerbated the issue, providing a platform for misinformation and negative campaigning.

Local Facebook groups, in particular, have become breeding grounds for false narratives surrounding planning decisions.

The Planner, the RTPI's member magazine, found that almost 9 out of 10 planners felt that social media was responsible for spreading misinformation about local planning matters.

But social media platforms are not just avenues for spreading misinformation. They have become arenas for targeted attacks on planners.

The Planner’s survey paints a grim picture, with 23% of planners regularly or occasionally targeted through social media because of their role.

This online harassment has driven some out of the public sector and forced others to delete their social media accounts.

Struggling to attract and retain talent

The value of planning is immeasurable, but the profession grappling with recruitment and retention challenges.

In 2022, the Local Government Association’s workforce survey revealed that 58% of local authorities in England struggled to hire as many planners as they wanted to.

This is the highest percentage for any profession within the local authority workforce.

Without a sufficient arsenal of qualified planners, the UK will struggle to:

  • meet its international obligations on climate change mitigation;
  • adapt to growing environmental risks;
  • deliver the quality and quantity of housing currently required; and
  • create healthy, sustainable places.

It Takes Planner &

In November, on World Town Planning Day, we launched our 'It Takes Planner &' campaign.

This campaign aims to unite RTPI members, the built environment sector and the public in recognising and celebrating the crucial work that planners undertake daily.

It highlights the pivotal role planners play in creating liveable, healthy communities, and it’s a chance for you, as engineers, to show your support for your fellow built environment colleagues.

I hope that you will join us in sharing your support for planners!

Download everything you need to get involved in the campaign.

Visit our Planning Your World site for more information about how you can get involved in your local area.

  • Simon Creer, communications director at Royal Town Planning Institute