The New London Agenda: Insights from the NLA’s Expert Panel for Planning

Francesca Prestinoni, Principal Sustainability Consultant at Hilson Moran, shares her experiences  on the NLA Expert Panel for Planning

I recently had the pleasure and privilege of being part of a year-long tenure on the NLA Expert Panel for Planning, one of the various industry collaborations that both Hilson Moran and other stakeholders in the sector contribute to in a voluntary role to help shape policy for the built environment. The main aim of this panel was to produce recommendations in relation to planning that would form part of a White Paper submitted to the Mayor of London for consideration as part of the New London Agenda. The panel focused on ‘Planning’ by looking at the rapidly changing shape of London by examining spatial and strategic plans at a local and London-wide level.

For me, the opportunity to be involved in this panel has been – from a professional and a personal development stance – invaluable. As one of the only NextGen representatives on the panel, I hope I was able to bring a different perspective to the wider group discussions that reflected my demographic and age group.

There were three main themes being addressed in the outcomes:

  • The proper functioning of the planning system and national planning policy agenda,
  • Embedding social value through all phases of planning and development through policy and guidance, and
  • Effective community engagement in planning.

All the discussions across the four formal meetings, networking events and presentations were informative and educational. As a Principal Sustainability Consultant at Hilson Moran working on ESG projects, a particular interest of mine was related to how we can embed social value and generate community engagement in planning, especially as this in an area presently not governed by law.

It was fascinating to hear viewpoints from those like Emma Carroll at the London Sustainable Development Commission (LSDC), which was established in 2002 to help provide independent advice to the mayor on making London an exemplary sustainable world city. As well as academics, campaigners, architects, economists and sustainable development experts on how we can build London back better post Covid and deliver social value through development and regeneration.

Discussions touched on the need to upskill those in council planning teams and engage younger generations into roles that influence and implement policy. It is crucial to get individuals across the country and across different socioeconomic backgrounds involved at a younger age, even before they entering further or higher education, in order to attract talent and develop experts who can plan the London of the future. The use of techniques like gamification are ways forward on this regard, as younger demographics are already familiar and engaged with these forms of technology .

We know that getting communities to participate in urban masterplanning can be challenging, especially those who’s voices are not usually heard (e.g. disadvantaged communities) or those who don’t realise they even have a voice in community planning. This needs considerable effort. The case studies brought forward to the table can illustrate some solutions to these challenges, and helped form part of our Panel’s recommendations for the New London Agenda.

Being involved in the NLA Planning Panel, and being exposed to the knowledge and experience of other senior professionals, has taught me a lot – and given me a much broader sense of the planning process in general. It has also emphasised how complex planning can be, in defining what social value is, in realising how it may differ across different contexts and community needs, in differentiating local attributes to the national picture and acknowledging the inequalities that many local authorities contained within a same city can house.

This experience has reinforced, what those of us who work in the built environment all know, but sometimes gets lost in the day-to-day of our jobs, that planning should not be about politics, or profit, but about people and about making the best spaces and places for those individuals. My experience as an expert panel member not only has broadened my knowledge, but has deepened my passion for my vocation and for the subject of future, sustainable cities that deliver social value across a spectrum of ways. This is what my tenure on the panel is really about – and the forthcoming recommendations of the NLA Planning panel reflect this.

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