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Proud of Women 2 - Cross Sector

On Wednesday 20th March Women in Planning held their second ‘Proud of Women’ event looking across the public, private and third sector. The event hosted three prominent women working in Greater London in all three sectors to provide a snap shot of practicing planning professionals.

Charlotte Morphet, (a founding member of Women in Planning), kicked off proceedings by briefly discussing the inspiration behind this series of events. The main inspiration was cited was the RTPI 2013 initiative #proudofplanners #proudofplanning.

Kathy McEwan, Head of Planning and Enabling at Design Council CABE was the first speaker of the evening. Kathy started by showing a picture of her mother, Ann McEwan, who was a leading town planner of her day with Colin Buchanan in 1970s. She said that her mother must have been tough to have the career she had in such a male dominated profession.

Kathy then took the audience on a journey through her career, stating that she was a late bloomer in her success at aged 40. Kathy has worked at two prominent London Boroughs, Hackney and Camden,here she set up the well known Camden Design Awards and Hackney Design Awards.

After this Kathy outlined the history of the changing role of CABE from quango to charity. It was interesting to note that the Design Council was once Council for Industrial Design (1944) and that CABE was previously the Royal Fine Art Commission (1924).

It was clear that the ethos of CABE had not been changed by moving into the Design Council as the aim is to collaborate with Built Environment professionals to achieve sustainable communities through good design practice. Now, however, Design Council CABE considers growth as part of its agenda.

The main change since the merge is centered on how CABE delivers its agenda. No longer government funded, they now bid for grants to deliver work about design in the built environment. Or they require developers to pay for a Design Review panel.

Kathy introduced the audience to new Design Council CABE publications ‘Active By Design’, ‘Design Led Approach to Infrastructure’, ‘Design in Neighborhood Planning’ and ‘A Design Wayfinder’.

CABE’s aim has always been to assist in the delivery of places that work, last and delight with Kathy presenting examples of this in her presentation. CABE helps bring communities together by providing design support and review for a wide range of stakeholders in the development process. This is promoted at a grassroots level by ensuring that planning policies express design-led objectives for developments, such as Crossrail.

Kathy ended the presentation by announcing that CABE are launching a new initiative called ‘Voice Box’ which enables community groups to identify the key issues, opportunities and challenges in the process of achieving good homes in their community.

Erica Mortimer, Managing Director of CgMs Ltd, spoke about her path to running a private sector planning and heritage consultancy with over 100 employees. Erica made a daring decision to enter the planning profession at a time when only three spaces were allocated to women on her chosen university course. Her career started at the City of London Corporation’s planning department, the financial district of London. Erica left to work at the London Borough of Lambeth, where she felt there was not enough work for her to undertake and departed in under a year of her appointment. A lesson here seemed to be that if you are not satisfied in your job, it is acceptable to leave to find something more challenging. Erica went back to the City but eventually moved into the private sector, joining a planning and development team in a surveying firm.

Due, in part, to the early 1990s recession this firm closed. Out of its ashes came CgMs Ltd in 1997. Erica interestingly noted that the client cultivation and planning came easy but all four directors had to learn the ropes of the business and they fell into the roles they now have.

CgMs in addition to providing planning consultancy service also uniquely offers archaeology within its heritage services. Erica explained that one of the most common questions she is asked is what archaeological findings have CgMs discovered. Much to the disappointment of the aspiring Indiana Jones’ in the audience, Erica informed us that most archaeology is now kept in insitu with foundations carefully built around historic remains.

Erica then look the audience through three examples of her recent planning work. Firstly, she told how she had assisted in the deliver a 570,000 sqm inland port, iPort, in Doncaster. The project is one of the largest regeneration projects in Donacaster’s History.

Next, Erica discussed her recent work for Historic Royal Places, particularly Hampton Court, where she had recently gained planning consent for the ‘Magic Garden’. The Magic Garden will be a historic themed play area, which Erica described as a cross between Harry Potter and Alice in Wonderland, even describing some of it as looking like ‘quidditch’ towers. The main objection discussed at the London Borough of Richmond planning committee was in fact noise from the children.

Erica ended her presentation with the redevelopment of London Bridge Station and treated the audience to Grimshaw’s fly through for the planning committee. Once completed it will be the largest rail concourse in the UK. Erica interestingly noted that infrastructure is fast becoming a growth sector for planning consultancies.

Seema Manchanda former Head of Planning at the London Borough of Wandsworth was the final speaker of the evening. Seema provided advice to the audience, using her career as the case study. A Cambridge graduate, Seema started her career in a Planning and Development team at a surveying firm, where she spent much of her time copying plans for the rest of the team. The first planning application Seema submitted was for a bund (aka a mound of soil) which she needed to go on site and measure.

After this experience, Seema moved into the regeneration team at the London Borough of Sutton where she gained the key skills that she has required throughout her career, such as bid writing.

Seema then moved to a position at the London Borough of Haringey as Head of Regeneration and Planning and then at London Borough of Newham. At Newham Seema was involved in identifying a new site for travelers to assist with the delivery of the Olympics. Now at Wandsworth, Seema has been instrumental in delivering the Nine Elms development. Seema worked to generate funding for the Northern Line extension via Section 106 Agreements, which has been a catalyst for development in this area.

Seema’s tips to Women in Planning were to collect skills and knowledge by gaining experience in many areas of planning (law, policy, consultancy and development management) and the wider sectors. Further to this, she said that being assertive was important, learn how to make sound decisions quickly and ensure you formulate a convincing reasoning behind these decisions.

To conclude the event, it is clear that we can definitely be proud of women in planning and proud of planning as a profession.

The event was attended by over 40 professional women who we would like to thank for their attendance. We would also like to thank our speakers Erica, Kathy and Seema who we consider to be exemplary examples of leading planners.

Thank you also to Design Council CABE, for allowing us to host the event at the iconic Angel Building, and KDH Associates for sponsoring refreshments. Without these kind supporters and sponsors our events are not possible.

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