Interview with Royal Town Planning Institute VP

Vice President of The Royal Town Planning Institute and Urban Studies and Planning alumni Lindsey Richards discusses her career and time as a student at the University of Sheffield.

Lindsey Richards
Lindsey Richards- RTPI Vice President

The Royal Town Planning Institute is an international professional body for town planners with over 27,000 in 88 countries. They are responsible for maintaining professional standards and accrediting world class planning courses both in the UK and internationally. Sheffield University's MSc in Urban and Regional Planning and MA in Urban Design and Planning are fully accredited by the RTPI. 

What does being vice president of the RTPI involve?

The Vice President, the President, and the Immediate Past President, are collectively referred to as the Presidential Team. The Presidential Team is led by the President and the team works together to represent the Institute at external and internal engagements during the year. The Vice presidential year is a year to ‘learn on the job’ and prepare for the Presidential role. There is a time commitment which is approximately 25 days, though it's down to individuals to determine the extent of time contribution beyond that. 

The Institute is relatively small in staff numbers when compared to other institutes, it is efficiently run and provides opportunities for volunteers to get involved. As Vice President I attend the General Assembly meeting, Nations and Regions meetings and an understanding of the extensive work of the various committees. It’s a great honour to be able to give back to an Institute which has supported my career.

Can you tell us a bit about your career path up to this point?

I have over 30 years’ experience in planning, design and delivery, primarily working in the public sector. I started as a Planning graduate at Daventry Council in the mid 80’s. I moved between Development Control (as it was then) and planning policy. It was the interface with the public and never quite knowing what the day ahead would bring that kept me within development management in those early years. There were a few moves into new roles with increased responsibility, but essentially remaining in development management. 

At Northampton Borough Council I led on major projects and was the council lead for the growth across the south West District. This involved working on the Upton ( Northampton)  project and the first Design Codes to be used to shape housing schemes.  It was an exciting time, working as part of a collaborative team which included the Princes Foundation and English Partnerships, as it was then. There was a strong focus on community engagement, facilitating charettes to ensure co-design and outcomes which reflected community aspirations. 

From Northampton, I didn’t move far. I lead the planning team at Milton Keynes Partnership, responsible for the expansion of Milton Keynes and introducing the Milton Keynes Tariff, the forerunner of CIL. I moved to English Partnerships (now Homes England) in 2009 to head up the delivery team in the Midlands. 

I am currently Head of Planning at Homes England, though leaving in March to focus on the RTPI role. Head of Planning at Homes England is essentially a consultancy role providing specialist advice to Homes England delivery teams and also acts as Head of Profession. I was responsible for driving design quality standards and introducing BfL12 as an assessment tool on Homes England sites. I work closely with DLUHC on policy formulation and dissemination across Homes England. My current remit covers community engagement and the introduction of a strategy and toolkit to support Homes England projects. 

What are your memories of studying in Sheffield?

I have fond memories of my student days in Sheffield. I studied Urban Studies, this was a natural follow on from my Geography A level and I knew it was a pathway into planning if that was still an interest after completing my undergraduate degree. It was a small intake of students, about 16 of us and we were based in Claremont Place. We became a close unit, and it’s the friendship and camaraderie that I remember. Our lecturers were knowledgeable, supportive and challenged us in order to stretch our thinking and maximise our learning. I have met a few of my past lecturers during my career, and hope I haven’t let them down.

What drew you towards planning as a student?

I enjoyed geography at school, both the physical and human elements, so I knew that studying for a degree was going to be centred around that discipline. I chose Urban Studies as the course content focused on urban modelling, land economics and covered significant parts of planning. I knew it would cover all the subjects that would be a good foundation for a planning career. At that time there was no undergraduate course covering planning. The rest is history, I stayed on for a post graduate year on planning.

What advice would you offer to current students in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning at Sheffield?

Planning is a great career, it provides many opportunities in many different fields. It covers specialisms and the opportunity to work within multidisciplinary teams. Planning is a rewarding career which is creative and helps to shape places where people want to live, work and play.

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