Another successful Conference for Planning Support Staff

TRA’s latest annual Conference for Planning Support Staff took place at the Wesley in London on the 24th May. Chaired by TRA Associate and private consultant, Chris Weetman, the conference was attended by just over 70 participants and covered a range of topics designed to enhance participants’ knowledge and understanding, regardless of their background or experience.

The first speaker, TRA Senior Associate Vivien Green, took the opportunity arising from changes to the appeal system in January 2018 to talk delegates through the system and the different procedures and protocols that must be followed. Vivien took time to explain the key role support staff have in ensuring the Inspectorate’s timetables are met and how they can do the best possible for their authority.

Ian Rowan, Heritage and Conservation Officer at Wigan MBC, then spoke on what makes a good heritage statement. The requirement for a heritage statement is a key ingredient in the determination of any application where a heritage asset is affected. Ian emphasised the fact that the quality of the heritage statement is important and that local validation lists should set out clearly what the planning authority expects and that, where necessary, local lists should be revisited to ensure the submission isn’t just a tick box exercise.

The final morning speaker, Jennifer Smith, Director of Smith Jenkins Planning Consultancy, had the unenviable task of trying to unravel the proposed changes to the NPPF and the recent changes in the GDPO for the benefit of participants, as well as touching on the changes to ‘pre-determination’ conditions which are due to come into effect on the 1st October 2018.

After lunch there was an open round-table discussion with delegates encouraged to ask questions about anything ‘planning- wise’ that was of concern to them. The discussion focused initially on pre-application conditions, and the implications of the new legislation, and moved onto the use of conditions in general, how they are set out in decision notices, and the resources needed to monitor and enforce them.  The issue of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) then took centre stage, with delegates involved in a healthy debate about what they could and could not do; what was expected of whom in their organisation; and the importance of learning what the new regulations require as this appeared to be ‘work in progress’ in many authorities.

The final speakers were Brett Leahy and Debbie Hardy from Milton Keynes Council. Brett, as Chief Planner, gave an overview of the rationale behind the authority’s journey towards the greater use of Artificial Intelligence or ‘AI’ in frontline service delivery to free up capacity for staff to do the more complex tasks. Debbie, as Technical Services Manager, gave a detailed breakdown of what the work involved and where they were in developing the technical framework to take the work ‘live’ within the next 12 months. A vigorous debate followed their presentation. 

Feedback on the event was very positive:

  • I can’t put into words the course’s importance but here goes: knowledge sharing, myth-busting, empowering and confidence building, invaluable. It pays for itself in the benefits the Council gets back from the attendees. Adine Shrankel, Suffolk Coastal DC
  • Very informative and good opportunity to network and consider new ideas or things that need to be looked at. Elizabeth Sandell, Harrogate BC
  • Very much enjoyed the subjects on the agenda and found the round table discussion very helpful. Natalie Compton, Chiltern & South Bucks DCs
  • All speakers were knowledgeable. This has helped me to understand some of the areas that weren’t clear and be able to take away new ideas. Janette Court, Wigan Council.
  • Really good to interact with other authorities regarding GDPR and changes within the NPPF. Charlotte Thompson, Newark & Sherwood DC.