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Australian institute outpost offers different slant on planning practice

The global market increasingly requires planners to share skills and experience to improve practice around the world and the Planning Institute of Australia's UK branch is fully involved in this, explains Javiera Maturana.

The UK branch of the Planning Institute of Australia (PIA) was set up in June last year to support the many Australian planners who are plugging the skills gap and contributing to the profession in this country. Through its events, it shares information on trans- ferrable experiences and practices that help assess the performance of both the Australian and UK planning systems against an international standard.

Policies that experiment with creative solutions can contribute to improving practice. Planners with wide-ranging experience have the benefit of understanding inter- national benchmarks and the PIA UK branch is in a unique position to promote different solutions to similar problems.
Not all planning solutions are transferable from one region to another, however, and critical reflection is key. In Australia, the PIA has taken the proactive step of assessing the performance of states against 12 critical factors said to be necessary for the health and well-being of cities and regions.

Its "report card" demonstrates which areas of planning have proved successful and which require improvement. Regrettably, climate change and transport rated poorly in this year's assessment, but it is hoped that the recent change of government will provide the spur to tackle these areas.

On a positive note, the report card showed that public participation and streamlining development assessment were areas that rated highly. Australia's zoning system could be a key difference, resulting in less complexity and much slower change compared with the UK's plan-led system. As a result, the Australian system is often more accessible and understandable to non-professionals. Planning in the UK has experienced major reform after major reform, fundamentally changing policy-making.

This is not to say that a complex planning system is justifiable in some respects. Planners need to be visionary, particularly with regard to social and environmental progress, while working within complex commercial parameters. It is, however, important to reflect and assess the success or otherwise of the existing policies before they are replaced on the ever-changing planning agenda.

Many Australian companies have started working in the UK over the past 15 years including Westfield, Lend Lease and Multiplex. Westfield and Multiplex are working together on one of London's largest retail developments at White City, which is set to radically change London's shopping patterns. Lend Lease owns the Bluewater shopping centre.

The challenges faced by the UK market were the focus of a recent PIA and New Zealand Planning Institute branch event at which Westfield Shoppingtowns director of development John Burton spoke. These developers' growing involvement in some of the UK's largest projects is likely to increase their influence in the planning system. The use of compulsory purchase powers in the UK is key to enabling development. Public acquisition powers in Australia are rarely exercised.

In planning terms, developers operate under a fairly relaxed retail policy system in Australia. But understanding global practices and outcomes has never been more important when the UK government, as a result of last year's Barker review, is moving to balance the economy with the objectives of planning, including removing the retail needs test.

The ever-growing global market demands an acute awareness from planning professionals to appraise the outcomes of policies, because global industries will certainly scrutinise the UK's performance on an international stage.

PIA UK's events promote sharing of planning practice that helps members critically assess their performance and that of others in shaping their response to social and environmental matters and its delivery of a prosperous economy. The branch will continue to invite speakers from key sectors of the industry to contribute to discussion that can better inform the planning profession.

Javiera Maturana is chair of the PIA UK branch, senior planner at Scott Brownrigg and a member of Architects for Peace. For more information, please email or visit

This article was originally published in PlanningResource (Dec 7, 2007)


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