Ethics, mediation and negotiation - "A soft end of planning?"
I recently visited part of Birmingham described by one panellist as the “bohemian” end of the Core City. Famous for the Custard Factory, the independent shopping destination and creative and digital business location, Digbeth resides within Birmingham City’s demise. The purpose of my trip to the Midlands was to attend a RTPI seminar entitled “Ethics, Negotiation and Mediation”.
So why attend such a session? With my submission looming, I was aware a key element of the APC is demonstrating the role ethics plays within the planning profession. As Andrew Close (the RTPI's Head of Careers) informed seminar attendees, it is where approximately a quarter of APC submissions fail due to insufficient discussion. I also anticipated some topical debate and certainly was not disappointed!
To kick us off, the seminar chair Michael Vout of RTPI West Midlands examined a perception that the roles of ethics, negotiation and mediation have the potential to fall victim to an incorrect categorisation of being a “soft end of planning”. The seminar proceeded to be more than analysis of the Code of Professional Conduct which governs RTPI members and an assurance to not undermine the Code of Conduct. Vout opened the scrutiny of ethics within the private and public planning professions, and demonstrated that ethics is a requirement to act in the public interest, secure social justice, and remove personal prejudices. An easy task? Perhaps not!
Chief Executive at TCPA and former senior planning advisor to Friends of the Earth Dr Hugh Ellis elaborated on the social justice role. He examined an ideology that some planners dreamt of how they could change the world by improving health, removing poverty, omitting the inequality of free market approach to private and public land, and formulating balance between rural and urban. Albeit a concept he applauded, he voiced his frustrations of NHS Healthy New Towns (further information available in an NJL blog) in how it had taken the NHS so long to recognise a relationship between health and the built environment. In Ellis’ presentation and the accompanied debate, there was probing into a lack of understanding from the politicians at the top, not only in the planning system but the ethics surrounding it.
Second to present his outlook was John Pugh-Smith, a barrister and ‘experienced mediator’ at 39 Essex Chambers. He focused on the role of the mediator within the public and private sectors, the role and benefits of pre-application advice, and how to rebuild trust with the public. He acknowledged private sector planners may be required to negotiate in order to meet client briefs without compromising their professional view on the appropriateness of developments. Those in the public sector, particularly those who make decisions or inform planning committees, should act on behalf of the general public whilst understanding that their decisions should be based on a balance of planning principles whilst also promoting social justice.
After a chance to top up coffee cups, Kay Powell, vice-chair and chartered planner at Planning Aid Wales, took to the metaphorical podium. She assessed planning as the ‘use and management of land’ and the principles of Planning Aid Wales, an independent and charitable organisation which helps individuals and communities participate more effectively in the planning system. She deliberated on juxtaposing approaches to the determination process; a ‘decide, announce and defend’ approach verses the more collaborate approach whereby ‘deliberating and engaging’ prevail. Powell also discussed her former role as Head of Planning for the Welsh Government and her input on development in and around Cardiff where consciousness engagement with the public was executed, as was omitting perceived barriers between the public and the planners.
The final speaker was Andrew Close, RTPI Head of Careers, Education and Professional Development. He emphasised how ethics, mediation and negotiation are critical roles to the planning profession including the duty of care planners have in translating planning jargon not only to the public but to public figures. He reassuringly informed attendees that of 23,000 members, the RTPI only find eight to 10 planners a year to be in breach of the Code of Conduct. Not bad but is this influenced by the public not knowing where to voice suspicions?
So while ethics and the intertwining skills of negotiation and mediation perhaps do not play an obvious role in the daily life of planners, they undoubtedly form a subtle backdrop to an individual’s professionality as well as the professional as a whole.
My thanks to RTPI West Midlands for organising the event and to Tripwire for the opportunity to reflect on the session. A huge thank you also to Dr Hugh Ellis, John Pugh-Smith, Kay Powell and Andrew Close who found time to speak in what I envisage to be hectic schedules.
team meeting by woodleywonderworks via flirck
Selfridges Birmingham by Pascal Terjan via flickr
Custard Factory, Birmingham by Nick via flickr
ETHICS by Dannon Loveland via flickr