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'Pioneering' scheme places architects back in planning departments

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A new and innovative scheme which places planning experts and architects in local government planning departments was launched by the Mayor of London on Wednesday.

The first cohort of 17 associates were selected by London-based social enterprise Public Practice and will work in local authority planning departments across the south east of England over the coming year to help increase skills and capabilities.

Sadiq Khan (Lab) personally thanked the new associates at the launch event in Transport for London’s Croydon headquarters, before commenting on the need for a higher focus on design.

Mr Khan said: “In order to deliver the well-designed housing and public spaces our capital needs, it’s vital our local authorities benefit from fresh talent to boost their skills and capacity.

“By empowering councils to take this approach in their planning, we can help ensure continued good growth for London whilst also providing our city’s planners with a fantastic opportunity to make a real difference to local areas.”

Public Practice was founded by Finn Williams and Pooja Agrawal in October 2017 with the aim of addressing a “lack of public sector planning capacity”.

Mr Williams said: “The biggest barrier stopping councils building at capacity has shifted. Whereas four years ago the problem was not having enough money, the main problem today is in not being able to find the right people. In a recent 2017 survey, 100% of local authorities told the Greater London Authority they were having difficulties recruiting people with the right skills.”

According to the Royal Institute of British Architects, only 6% of new homes built in the UK today are designed by architects, who make up 0.7% of the total public planning workforce in England. By comparison, 49% of all UK architects worked for the public sector in 1976.

Mr Williams, also a taskforce member of the Raynsford Review team, said: “There’s a popular perception today that planning is about stopping things happening and that needs to change. In the Sixties, a planner was central to creating a progressive future for a place and councils were empowered to invent and deliver that vision critically.”

Mr Williams added: “We’ve now reached a turning point, where people are realising that planning isn’t a barrier to growth - it’s part of the solution.”

A spokesperson for Public Practice said “[We are] now inviting interest from local authorities and public bodies in London and the wider South East, as well as other regions of the UK. Applications for the next cohort open on 1 October 2018.”

The social enterprise was co-founded by the Mayor of London, the Local Government Association, Future Cities Catapult, British Land, The Berkeley Group, and Peabody.

John Fuller (Con), in his capacity as vice chair of the LGA’s resources board, said: “Councils understand that planning is essential and crucial to delivering better environments for our residents to live in. The LGA is proud to represent councils as a founding partner of Public Practice.”

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