Chupachump 1 Werther’s Original 0

15 May 24

This UKREiiF is important for two reasons.  It’s right to be impatient for change, and to be optimistic about change, which the general election will trigger whoever wins.  But it also needs lateral thinking.  

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I am writing this blog whilst sat on a budget flight to Bilbao, on the day of the May elections (which in my purview as a Wandsworth resident is dominated by the London mayoral elections). Two immediate impressions spring to mind: 1.  It’s bad luck if you find yourself in a middle seat surrounded by tired but excited Spanish school children wearing Man Utd and ‘I love London’ tops (especially when you’ve set yourself the task of writing said blog), and; 2.  For the second major election running, I’ve consciously not voted.  As someone inherently political, I find the second point in particular especially depressing. But for reasons utterly dominated by my views on planning and development (especially housing), I didn’t feel able to give my vote to either of the main candidates, especially in a retrograde ‘first past the post’ voting system. The Spanish kids look like they enjoyed our capital, mind (that must be where they bought the United merch). 

Why flying to Bilbao? I’m doing a bit of sight seeing and cycling with friends in nearby San Sebastián. The purpose? Well, I like piddling about on bikes, but when I get back I am also cycling with Iceni clients, contacts and colleagues to Leeds for UKREiiF, so it’s good training. And when I sit back, avoid being hit by a Chupachump thrown by Javier (seat 25a) at Cristina (seat 23d), I am struck by the esoteric thread that links my train of thoughts: so much of the planning process we are involved in is political, we rely heavily on building associations and connections with officers, stakeholders and elected members who themselves work in a political sphere, and fundamentally, you don’t always get the leaders – or leadership – we want or need to drive though progress and change. UKREiiF will be a prime opportunity to talk about projects and strategic ventures in a safe, constructive environment; commitments and resolutions will be made and I fully expect like others to return bedecked with business cards and positivity, but the tangible judge of output will be what happens in the months preceding UKREiiF. 

In that sense, what comes next (politically) is what matters.  Pretty much every local authority I talk to (without a local plan) is saying two paradoxical things: 1.  We absolutely need to change the status quo, and we need growth, and 2. Here is our timetable for our local plan, which assumes we submit our plan (preferred options plus in old money) by next June. There’s a reason for the first sentiment, and it’s normally linked to the likelihood of the second happening, and the track record for delivering previous plans.  It’s presently looking likely that Labour will form the next government, but whoever takes control in England (and the same can be said for Scotland) we desperately need clear leadership, and a pragmatic view to planning. As a chief executive of a local authority said to me recently, “the mistake we have made over successive generations is trying to drive our economy through our local plan.  It’s a regulatory process, it takes too long, and the outcome is not certain.  And if it fails, so does your economy”.  As my Spanish cycling colleague (seat 24b) would arguably say, it only takes a change of elected party or planning inspector to “cagarse en la leche”, and you’re back to a strategy for growth, housing, education, health, training, climate change, transport, utilities, infrastructure, sport, tourism, agriculture (I could go on) on the cutting room floor of the local planning department. 

This UKREiiF is important for two reasons.  It’s right to be impatient for change, and to be optimistic about change, which the general election will trigger whoever wins.  But it also needs lateral thinking.  What happens if that much feted local plan doesn’t get submitted by 2025? What latitude is there to guide good growth, strategically, with vision, outside of a regulatory framework? What role can corporate plans play? What happens if in spite of a general election we don’t get the national or local leadership we deserve?  

Bilbao is a prime example of a place that decided it was going to get things done. The northern Spanish city was transformed from a sleepy, declining, industrial town into a cultural hub with excellent standards of living. The commitment to do so came from a succession of ‘Lehendakaris’ who through willpower and leadership determined to put Bilbao on the international map.  The vision lead the process – not the other way around. 

Let’s have a double helping of ‘garra’ at this UKREiiF (both on the bike and at the conference).   Let’s have English school kids wearing Athletic Bilbao tops and throwing Werther’s Originals.  Let’s have leaders driving change.  Let’s not hide behind regulatory planning for an absence of progress and delivery.

If you are attending UKREiiF and want to discuss my excellent knowledge of Spanish swearwords (or other things), get in touch in the usual fashion.

Ian Anderson Chief Executive,Planning