Tower Hamlets planners crowned best in the UK at RTPI Awards

Planners from Tower Hamlets Council have been named as the local authority planning team of the year at a leading national awards contest.

The council’s infrastructure planning team took the top prize at the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) Awards for Planning Excellence. Their colleagues in the plan making team were commended for excellence in plan making for their work on the council’s recently adopted local plan.

John Biggs, Mayor of Tower Hamlets, said: “I’m delighted for our planning team that its efforts have been recognised at a national level. Much of the team’s work happens out of the spotlight but it is of critical importance and does make a big difference for our residents.

“It is particularly pleasing to see our work on delivering infrastructure acknowledged in this way. As a borough that is growing as fast as our own, where development has not always been seen in a positive light, prioritising the delivery of infrastructure that absorbs the impacts of growth and helps to ensure its benefits are shared is very important.

“Similarly, to see our local plan held up as an example for other councils to follow is a fitting tribute to the hard work, over a number of years, that went into shaping such a forward thinking and sector leading approach.”

It has been a busy year for the infrastructure team, which has seen the adoption of a new system to secure funding from developers that will contribute to new infrastructure. Over 1,000 ideas were submitted for future projects from over 2,500 residents who provided feedback on the local plan.

The success of that consultation work was reflected in the judges’ comments. They applauded the infrastructure team’s commitment to working with local communities and making inclusivity a key part of their approach. They noted that while the borough was a place with social challenges, the council had worked with developers and the public to deliver inclusive engagement and a smarter approach to infrastructure.

The plan making team, responsible for the council’s local plan, was commended by the judges in the excellence in plan making category for the way it understood the challenges of creating a plan in a borough that has limited land available for development and significant social diversity.

The local plan sets out the direction for growth and development in the borough for the next decade. It includes expectations on infrastructure provision, employment opportunities and the protection of the environment, including air quality. It also establishes policies to support the delivery of the affordable homes the borough needs.

The new plan also establishes: a series of tall building zones to ensure new tall buildings are located in the most suitable areas; policies to protect socially, economically and environmentally vital land uses (including water spaces, open space, pubs, industrial land, affordable housing and community facilities) from redevelopment; and policies to improve liveability. This involves managing the impact of construction projects and requiring developers to assess the health impacts of their proposals.

The judges described it as a bold approach and an excellent example of collaborative working that builds in resilience in social infrastructure to respond to still further growth. They encouraged other councils to replicate the work of the Tower Hamlets team.

Sue Manns, President of the RTPI, said: “This year’s winners are among the best of the best. They shine a spotlight on the very best practice in delivering future places and spaces that work for everyone. They provide us with inspiration and confidence in the future of our profession.”