International Women’s Day – Striving for greater levels of gender parity in Planning

In the last year we have seen more exposure to strong global movements for gender equality across various professions, with the launch of #MeToo and #TimesUp we have witnessed how powerful women can be when they come together to be heard. In similar spirit this year’s International Women’s Day (IWD) is also focusing on the issue of gender parity, motivating us all to #PressforProgress in our chosen professions.  So, there is no doubt that this year’s IWD will continue to be an important one!

That’s not to say the planning profession, hasn’t pushed for gender parity up until now. The current Chief Executive Trudi Elliot has made this her mission through out her leadership of the Institute. Even still within the Institute, women only make up approximately 38% of the total membership.[1]  More generally, women are becoming increasingly prominent in planning and, better still, more women are in senior positions within the profession and talent is being retained.

However gender parity can, and should, go further.

Case in point: the 2017 membership survey conducted by the Institute revealed that one-in-four women see gender inequality as a barrier to their professional development or their career progression. Greater numbers of women in planning means nothing if they cannot be supported to develop and progress in their careers, whether those are senior leadership roles or just getting more responsibility at work. This is why the North West Branch’s next event is so important as it focuses on “Planning your Career” and providing support to women working in the planning profession.

We must to continue to identify and remove the barriers that women face, especially in our profession. Alongside that, we should continue to recognise and celebrate the achievements of women in planning. In turn, women’s visibility and prominence will rise even further – truly levelling the playing field.

We can only achieve that through embedding inclusion and equality of opportunity into everything we do; planning and the built environment will benefit as a result.

This is something that Women in Planning is striving for.  Our Proud of Women series has been the first step on our journey to improving the visibility and prominence of women within our profession.  Moving forwards our latest series, When Women Plan London, will highlight the women’s achievements in planning, as well as focusing on how women have been instrumental in helping shape the city in which we live.

Women in Planning are also proud to say we are involved with three IWD events, two of which are in London and the third being Manchester expanding our visibility within planning.


Nissa Shahid
Nissa Shahid

Urbanist at Future Cities Catapult and member of the Women in Planning London Committee.


Article, event write up, Women in Planning Official

Building a Britain Fit for the Future – The Launch of the Revised NPPF


Women in Planning committee members were delighted to attended the revised National Planning Policy Framework  launch in London on Monday. Below they each reflect on the day and what it means for the profession.

Ellie Gingell, Chair of South Midlands Branch


“In the South Midlands, we were keen to hear where the new Garden Towns on the Oxford-MK-Cambridge Corridor were going to be located. Unfortunately, we still have to wait for the final announcements.

However, Plan making, including strategic plans, was very much on the agenda through the speeches and into the technical sessions afterward. Even the transitional arrangements (the time in which Local Authorities have to get a plan in place) which, may at first seem strict- a mere 6 months- were defended by Steve Quartermain who was very clear that we’ve had long enough to understand government thinking and their intentions and act accordingly. This will, of course, prove challenging for but is probably a very large carrot disguised as a stick when you reflect on the proposed changes as a whole, for example the Housing Delivery Test.

Pondering the day on the train home, the speeches, the amusing memes of Thomas the Tank engine that filled the twitter feed, the strong voices for and those against, and with International Womens Day just around the corner it seemed somewhat apt to reflect on the words of suffragette Lucy Stone:

“Now all we need is to continue to speak the truth fearlessly, and we shall add to our number those who will turn the scale to the side of equal and full justice in all things”.

It is, after all, a consultation- which is our opportunity to be heard as planning professionals.”

Alison Mackay, Co-Founder

Alison Photo

“It was a very busy day for the Planning profession. Prime Minster Theresa May kick started the launched the consultation of the eagerly anticipated updated National Planning Policy Framework, setting the future for planning policy.

With a focus on housing delivery, I am looking forward to reading the consultation document in full but the take home messages from the day were:

1) Greater protection of the Green Belt and ensuring Local Planning Authorities can firmly justify its release;
2) Emphasis on high density with the power to refuse schemes of too lower density and
3) Monitoring of Local Plans to ensure they deliver their adopted strategic visions with consequences for Local Planning Authorities that fail to do so”

Charlotte Morphet, Co-Founder 

Charlotte Morphet Young Planner of the Year Photo

“I thought the presence of the Prime Minster at the launch of the National Planning Policy Framework mark 2 was positive. It really showed how far as a profession we have come in the Government eyes. It was also good to have the presence of the Secretary of State. We have moved on from being the enemies of enterprise to important profession and process in the delivery of housing.

I am reserving judgement on the content of the consultation documents until I have read them all; but I can be certain of one thing, Local Planning Authorities need more resources to deliver the Governments ambitions plans for homes and communities.”

Sara Sweeney, London Branch Committee member

Sara Sweeney

“It certainly was not an average Monday hearing about the proposed revisions to the NPPF first-hand from the Prime Minster and the Secretary of State.

What I took from the day was that the ultimate aspiration of the Government is to build a Britain that is fit for purpose and that means delivering the right homes, in the right places. As a Planner with a particular passion for strategic planning and the delivery of housing, I welcome many of the proposed revisions to help streamline the plan-making process (after all this is supposed to be a plan-led system) but I will reserve judgement until I’ve holistically read the consultation documents and considered the implications on the ground.

Albeit, the Developer in me feels massively underwhelmed and under attack. Developers will continue to “step up” to build homes, but in my opinion the anti-developer culture needs to change as the industry is not to blame for the housing crisis. I can attest that I have never been asked to promote a site for housing or submit a planning application with the intention to “sit on the land and watch the value rise”. There needs to be some realism here, the development industry does not operate within a vacuum that is not exposed to wider economic factors. Stable economic conditions create the environment in which developers can deliver more homes. No private sector entity would be expected to deliver without profit and it should be no different for the development industry.”

The consultation proposals can be found on the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government website (click here). 


Leadership in Planning

By Anna Rose,  Head of the Planning Advisory Service (PAS) at Local Government Association

For me, great leaders have vision, the better ones also work hard to make sure that there is a shared understanding of how to make that vision a reality.

This isn’t just true of local government but it is particularly relevant. There are great political and officer leads who can orate their enthusiasm for a firmly held vision to audiences far and wide. Of these leaders there are also some who can engage their own groups and teams. It is critical in local government that there is a shared understanding of how to realise the vision as there are a myriad of differing concerns, priorities and agendas to work with.

So good leadership is about so much more than vision, its effectiveness is reliant on communication. If a local planning authority (LPA) is the delivery arm of a leader’s vision they need to believe in and take responsibility for its delivery. Without this shared understanding the vision is just that, a vision.

This may sound a little philosophical but I worry that ‘leadership’ is a word that is used as frequently as ‘amazing’ and is similarly misused to complement other characteristics or attributes that whilst commendable are not leadership.

For LPA’s, the need for a leader or leaders who have a clear vision is evident. Many local plans are created in the absence of an overall vision for the place that is being planned. Decisions are taken without consideration of a desired outcome for anything other than that application. Is it any wonder that things don’t always go to plan?

If your destination keeps changing, you may get there but it will take a long time and you will travel further. Ring any bells?

For LPAs, it is essential that the political and officer leads articulate a desired outcome from the outset rather than changing this according to the most recent decision or consultation. This does not negate the positive influence of flexibility but it does ensure that there is a point of stability to test any new ideas against. It is the ‘spotting point’ when you are spinning. It is extremely difficult to remember the purpose of a plan or process if an iterative approach to the outcome is taken.

Leaders need to prioritise. Where this is done well it makes a HUGE difference to not only the productivity of the LPA but also the morale and wellbeing of the team. Public services adapt to the situation that they are put in but this can be handled so much better when there is leadership to guide the activity. This is as much about what to continue doing as it is about stopping. Teams that know what is expected of them will take responsibility for delivering it, the opposite is also true.

So, for me, an iterative vision leads to changing priorities and therefore inconsistency. Good leadership works on the basis of no surprises. Honesty and trust is a massive part of this. LPAs with effective leadership know how to deal with issues as they arise as they understand how their leaders wish them to operate. The absence of this understanding is usually built up from a history of inconsistent approaches and decisions at a leadership level. Inconsistency in leadership leads to inconsistency in service delivery.

Inconsistency inside an LPA reflects directly onto the community and customers of the Council. This leads to a poor reputation, built around a lack of trust and confidence. A poor reputation once gained is very hard to lose.

LPAs that know what they are working towards and how to get there are more effective and efficient. They don’t have to spend time searching for the directions. Needless to say – this improves service delivery and saves money.

Responsibility can only be delegated once trust is established. Planners with responsibility have more fulfilment from their role. Good leadership allows for that responsibility to be handed around and a bond of trust is formed. Leaders are stronger when they trust their teams to deliver and teams are stronger when they are trusted.

So yes we need great leaders but let us all commit to using the term responsibly.

Follow Anna on Twitter @EPlanna 

This blog was adapted from a presentation Anna gave at Planning Future‘s talk on leadership in planning.



Celebrating 30 years of the Women’s Design Service

2017 marks 30 years since the formation of the Women’s Design Service. To celebrate this anniversary we have two articles below on the Women’s Design Service and the London Women and Planning Forum. We also have six copies of papers by the Women’s Design Service available below.

Women’s Design Service


In the ferment that was the Women’s Liberation Movement in the 1970s all kinds of women’s groups and organisations sprang up:- from the 300 Group working for equal representation in Parliament to Women in Nalgo concerned that unions were not championing women’s issues to the National Abortion Campaign. Similar awakenings were happening in the area of the built environment, with women raising concerns both about women in the various professions and the way that the built environment was largely designed for white able-bodied men.

Women’s Design Service was developed out of the Technical Aid movement. In those days there were many voluntary groups in receipt of grants and many needed help with premises issues. WDS focused on helping the many women’s groups then in London, most of whom were funded by Ken Livingstone’s Greater London Council. WDS worked with all kinds of organisations, advising on planning and structural issues, drawing up plans for improvements and improving accessibility.

When Thatcher government abolished the GLC, many of those groups lost their funding and folded. However from the experience of working with women and hearing about their problems with the built environment, WDS re-invented itself as a research organisation. We investigated all kinds of issues; toilets, transport, creches, parks, housing, offices, tenant participation and running as a thread through all these topics – women’s safety from male violence. This is the period when most of WDS’s publications were produced.

In the early 1990s Women’s Design Service started to assist London Women and Planning Forum (LWPF) by organising public meetings on their behalf and publishing the Forum’s discussions as broadsheets.  Men were welcome at the events, but the policy was always to engage women speakers. Topics included race, disability, routes for women in construction, older women, art, cctv, environment and many other issues that were topical in that particular time. After every event a broadsheet was produced (in print, no internet in those days!) and some of these are still available.

In 2001 WDS was facing ever more severe funding problems, and it looked as if the organisation might have to close. At that point the LWPF was handed over to Queen Mary University of London where Alison Blunt in the Geography Dept. continued to chair the group until it lapsed a few years ago.

It was in 2002 that I came in as Director, and given the ongoing loss of grant funding to the voluntary sector started to build WDS up as more of a social enterprise, offering consultancy with our Making Safer Places project and on the Gender Equality Duty. Trustees agreed to leave LWPF with Queen Mary’s although WDS continued to be an active member. Many highly informative and productive events were organised during those years with an emphasis on bringing together academics, practitioners and users.

More information on WDS led projects, events and publications can be found here

Women Design Service Booklet 

Wendy Davis was a founding member of the Women Design Service and a Director from 2002 -2008

London Women and Planning Forum

Discussions on gender and planning have been on the urban agenda for a long time.

Early examples include gender specific policies of the Greater London Council (GLC) Women’s Committee, academic research on gender bias in built environment and RTPI’s planning advice note on Planning for Women. Similarly, discussions have also focussed around how planning policies and practice affect women’s lives, and how planning departments can be more representative of the population they serve.

It is important to touch upon this rich history in the WiP blogs. It is our history and it is important to remember the pioneers. This will also remind us how much progress we, the planning community, achieved (or not) on gender issues in planning over the last 30-40 years.

One group who committed time and effort to gender issues in 1990s was the London Women and Planning Forum, a network for women planners and planning students who were interested in discussing a wide range of planning issues from a gender perspective.

The group were meeting roughly four times a year to discuss women and planning issues, identify good practice and provide support and advice to women planners. The meetings often had challenging and thought-provoking presentations followed by discussions, and attracted a wide audience with people working in local authorities and academia, as well as other sectors and community organisations concerned with planning and equality issues.

The support from the Women’s Design Service (see our previous blog on WDS) played a crucial role in keeping the Forum going. In fact, the Forum probably would not have survived so long if it didn’t come under the WDS umbrella.

Meeting notes were published as Broadsheets by the WDS. The topics included designing out crime, town centres, planning education, housing and women’s position in planning departments. You have to bear in mind that the discussions and views in these Broadsheets are a reflection of the social, political and planning context more than 20 years ago. Some of the views and solutions may feel out of date or not relevant anymore. But you will also find that some of the issues and challenges discussed then are still relevant.

In 2001, LWPF came under the umbrella of Queen Mary University of London where Alison Blunt in the Geography Department continued to chair the group involving academics, practitioners and users.

You will find below a selection of the Broadsheets as records of London Women and Planning Forums discussions and presentations. We feel it is important that this history is not lost. We are where we are because of views and actions of many women before us who committed time and effort to make life better for those who experience inequality in the built environment. We leave it to you to decide how much, if any, progress has been made since the Forum put these issues on the agenda of the planning community in London and beyond over 20 years ago.

Author Dr Sule Nisancioglu is a member of Women in Planning –  London Branch

View some of the London Women and Planning Forum Broadsheets below:

  1.  Women as Planners – Is More Better
  2. Breaking down the barriers for Women
  3. Are Town Centres Managing?
  4. Gender issues within planning education
  5. Designing out Crime?
  6. Policy planning and development control – how can they work together to benefit women in the planning process


Article, networking, North West committee

The Value of Networking: A Student’s Perspective

A seasoned networker will know all about the do’s and don’ts of events, but ask a student on the cusp of entering the big bad world of the graduate job market and you’ll most likely be met with a blank stare while their head whirs with the realisation they’ll need to learn, and learn quickly. An increasingly competitive career market calls for a more robust skills base, which extends beyond the top-of-the-league-table degree. University can often feel like a bubble, where students are shielded from the real world with the reassurance of ‘get a good degree, and you’ll make it’. I hate to be the person to tell these students that, unfortunately, this isn’t the case. Yes, you can write a 1st class essay on the implementation of green infrastructure in urban design, and your knowledge of rural diversification is very impressive, but how firm is your handshake?

I learnt early on in my university experience that soft-skills matter. The simple ability to look a person in the eye makes the difference in selling yourself as the kind of person they want on their team. However, most students will tell you their course includes little to do with networking and associations; in many cases students learn about networking post-graduation. But surely these are skills we should be developing from the out-set and throughout? Wouldn’t it be good to enter the business arena with the basic skills of interaction? The answer is yes, yes it would. Developing these skills helps us make those all-important connections in the industry, enabling that foot-in-the-door or a step-up-the-ladder. We’ve all heard ‘it’s about who you know’, and that is why I got involved with Women in Planning. If it’s about who-you-know, I decided to get to know people.

 As a student, it can be very daunting to enter a room with experienced professionals, however if joining the North-West Committee of Women in Planning has taught me anything, it is that these professionals want to encourage and support those entering the industry, as well as those already established. I have made connections with people from all sectors, offering advice but also interested in listening and learning from others. Women in Planning provides an inclusive environment to meet and develop connections, with women from all stages of life and positions welcome to get involved. It is this inclusive environment which sets Women in Planning apart. We strive to encourage those on the path of career development, supporting their journey through the glass ceiling, and we support those with other priorities in life who want to remain connected to the industry. Supporting women of all career stages has developed a diverse pool of experience, providing opportunities to make lasting connections. As a woman just starting out in a career, experiencing this approachable atmosphere has been very reassuring as it is clear that support extends to women of all stages, positions, and ambitions.

Introducing women to the world of networking at an early stage in their career breaks down the perception of networking as a daunting challenge, and demonstrates that networking is in fact an enjoyable and social affair, providing the opportunity to meet like-minded people. We all know networking enables us to expand our knowledge and develop ideas, but experience in networking also helps us recognise opportunities. An offer of a placement, a request for a product or service, and employment openings may appear as passing comments in conversation, and it is these fleeting opportunities which we must learn to seize to take full advantage of the benefits of networking. Developing a confident and sustained presence in the business community is vital in building connections, and the sooner we start establishing our presence the better.

Women in Planning North West will be holding a launch event and details will be released soon. Please get in touch with us for details at

K Airey

Kimberley Airey

Student of Environment & Planning

University of Liverpool

North West Committee Member of Women in Planning

LinkedIn: Kimberley Airey


Article, event write up

Housing White Paper: A Step in the Right Direction

The long awaited Housing White Paper (HWP) was published in February 2017. The Paper has been hotly debated since and we are still waiting for the outcome of the consultation.

Alice Lester MBE (Head of Planning, Transport and Licensing at Brent Council), Lorraine Hughes (Senior Director at CBRE), Sara Parkinson (Planning and Development Programme Director at London First) and Rachel Ferguson (Senior Planning Executive at Metropolitan Housing) joined us on the 11 April at Dentons‘ London office to provide their view on the HWP.


Whilst there are differing views on the HWP’s effectiveness, the panellists provided a useful insight sectors. The panellists largely agreed that, whilst the HWP is not perfect; it is a step in the right direction and it is one of the many steps that is needed to be taken to increase the delivery of homes across the UK. Hughes noted that, “the HWP is going in the right direction. There is a need to understand the barriers and harness the opportunities”.

Planning is not the panacea for housing

From the panellist’s perspective, there is a failure to fully recognise the economics of the situation. Basic supply and demand theory is too simplistic when applied to the housing market as the affordability of housing is not comparable to the affordability of other commodities such as groceries. This is because “people use housing as an investment” therefore bringing housing down to an affordable level could mean negative equity for many people.

The panel considered that the HWP does not appropriately address viability, in particular it lacks clarity on London’s position. The HWP also fails to recognise the gap between policy and available funding which often leads to the delayed delivery of sites. Little attention is paid to the importance of the plan-making stage, and the issues surrounding the Green Belt firmly remains the ‘elephant in the room’.

On the whole, the panel agreed that the answer to deliver significant levels of new homes is too complex to be simply the burden of the planning system alone and as Parkinson commented “Planning is not the panacea for delivering new housing”. The ‘solution’ is much wider and would need to incorporate economic variables, viability, and politics all of which have a significant influence on housing delivery.

Increased Planning Application Fees

Lester welcomed the proposed changes to planning application fees but emphasised that there is still likely to be disparity between the fees and the actual man hours employed by Development Control teams. Major planning applications often end up subsidising householder applications and unless the fees are right an increase of 20% will not make much difference. Lester considered that planning application fees are only one part of a wider problem. The other issues Local Planning Authorities are facing is a clear key skill shortage, especially at principal planner level.

Hughes and Parkinson indicated that their clients and members are likely to pay the suggested increased planning application fees, but only if there were tangible improvements in decision taking. Parkinson said however, that resources were also needed in policy to increase confidence in a plan-led approach.

Speeding up delivery

Whilst the panel accepted that the private sector has a role to play in speeding up delivery of new housing, Housing Associations and Local Authorities also have an important role in the delivering of new homes.

Ferguson noted that her residential delivery rates are often stalled by the time it takes to discharge conditions.  She highlighted that the time taken to clear conditions is often longer than anticipated and this impacts on the commencement date. Lester explained how this is an issue she is trying to address in her current role at LB Brent. Lester holds regular ‘condition workshops’ where officers have to justify use of non-standard conditions and are told to apply conditions with caution.


The hype around the Housing White Paper remains and there are certainly suggested measures which the built environment industry would welcome as a way to facilitate the increased delivery of new housing. As agreed at the event, the HWP cannot be a standalone mechanism and will need wider support from sectors outside planning in order to meet the housing targets.

We shall await the outcome of the government’s consultation on the paper to understand whether any of the above ideas area common themes within the wider industry.

We are grateful to our panellists for taking part in the event and of course to our sponsor and host, Dentons for their hospitality.


Sara Sweeney, Planning Manager at Kitewood



mary introduction and room full

mary introduction

panel in discussion 5


Cities: the other dimension

Traditionally cities have been designed by men – from architects to city planners, surveyors and engineers – and the primary assumption has been that everyone is an able-bodied young person, going from home to work in a one-dimensional trajectory. The secondary assumption has been that the populace’s main journeys are indeed to and from work.

But from these assumptions come problems. Take the first, that everyone is able-bodied: a lack of stair-free access at transport nodes to assist those with disabilities, children, or even people travelling with luggage turns many people’s journey into a struggle.

And the assumption of the work-home trajectory has led to the unsustainable zoning of residential and economic land uses, which have traditionally been separated in city planning.

How does this affect the cities we live in?

Cities do not take into account all the unacknowledged work that people do. Things like childcare, which can make journeys around cities more complicated. Trip-chain journeys might, for example, start from home, first taking a child to day-care, then dropping off another child at school, before eventually reaching work, with the reverse journey including a supermarket visit before getting home. These activities are not well supported in our urban set-up.

If women were in charge of urban design, would cities look different?

Men and women have different experiences in cities. As more men take a larger role in childcare, they will notice accessibility issues. But women have experienced these for longer. Day-to-day they can be confronted with difficulties manoeuvring pushchairs and buggies around the urban environment. Furthermore, more women work part-time or from home, merging home and office. Some of these experiences relate closely to those with disabilities.

So, if more cities were planned by women they would not necessarily look different, but they would feel different. Women are for the most part more sensitive to the needs of others because they have for so long experienced at least some form of social exclusion. This would make cities more integrated and user-friendly, which could mean they were planned with better transport and more integrated mixed uses.

Would this mean the end of central business districts?

Probably. But these are already being planned out in favour of residential-led, mixed-use schemes. Canary Wharf now has a large residential population to match its economic one and it is planning to expand with the development of Wood Wharf.

What would cities designed by women mean for the property markets?

The diversity inherent in this new way of planning and designing cities would mean that the so-called comparables in the property markets may not be as explicit. Valuers and investors would have even more reasons to debate the “true” value of property. Real estate investment would need a long term strategy beyond the normal five-to-seven years. Long-term investments could lead to stability of property prices and less speculation around future value growth: a more sustainable economic model.

In short, more women could mean less boom and bust as less risk is taken.

Ultimately diversity in the built environment will change cities for the better by adding another lens to development decisions.

The above was authored by Clara Greed, professor of inclusive urban planning at the University of the West of England, Charlotte Morphet, senior consultant at planners Turley and co-founder of Women in Planning, Maria Wiedner, founder and chief executive of Cambridge Finance and RE Women, and Liane Hartley, founder of Mend and Urbanistas. It is based on their Women: Know Your Place discussion at the WOW Festival.

This article was first published on Estates Gazette.Com REWIRE blog. Read the original article at the following link