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RIBA at Party Conference 2020

Typically, the RIBA hosts events at both Labour and Conservative Party Annual Conferences. This year however, the Labour Party made the decision to postpone their Annual Conference early on whereas the Conservative Party decided to go completely virtual. As a result, we hosted two online panel sessions on planning and sustainability as part of Conservative Party Conference 2020.  

09 October 2020

This year, Party Conference wasn’t the usual affair that everyone is used to. Typically, the RIBA hosts events at both Labour and Conservative Party Annual Conferences. This year however, as a result of the global pandemic, the Labour Party made the decision to postpone their Annual Conference early on. The party later confirmed that they were to host an online event titled 'Connected' which consisted of a series of keynote speeches from the party's Shadow Cabinet members.

However, the Conservative Party announced that they would be hosting their Annual Conference entirely virtually. The RIBA held two online panel sessions as part of Conservative Party Conference on Monday 5 October 2020. Find out what happened below.

Event 1: How can Planning for the Future deliver the high-quality well-designed homes we need?

Our first event included an online panel session with the joint institutes of the built environment - the RIBA, the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB), the Royal Institution for Chartered Surveyors (RICS) and the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) - on the government’s Planning for the Future white paper. The event, chaired by RTPI President Sue Manns, welcomed panellists including RIBA President Alan Jones, CIOB Policy & Public Affairs Manager Joseph Kilroy, RICS Policy Manager Tamara Hooper, RTPI Chief Executive Victoria Hills and Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Housing and Planning David Simmonds MP.

The event kicked off with a video message from Housing Minister Christopher Pincher MP, stating that in order to reshape the planning system, “we [the government] need your help.” Watch the full video below.

During the panel session that followed, there was clear consensus that substantial resources at local level, placemaking and measures that enable a sustainable future must be prioritised for a strong and effective future planning system.

Joseph Kilroy highlighted a key aim of the white paper is to cut through planning red tape, making it easier to build. He warned that this will also lead to the introduction of a raft of new duties and structures, putting pressure on local authorities to deliver. Victoria Hills flagged that post-austerity cuts have led to a lack of resources in local authority planning departments, and that government must use this opportunity to make this right.

Victoria also emphasised that driving forward ambitions for net zero will be essential to achieving good design through a strong planning framework. Alan Jones supported this, stating the need for a planning system that reflects the urgency that we are currently facing, emphasising that buildings and construction contribute to roughly 40% of global carbon emissions. Another key area of discussion was the role of placemaking in a future planning system. David Simmonds MP highlighted that people’s sense of place is very much locally driven, and that the connection of national and local planning policy is significant. Tamara Hooper emphasised the need for a new system to enhance existing communities, not only expand them.

The government is currently consulting on significant changes to the planning system in England. The RIBA would like to know what our members think about the proposals and which aspects you feel we should focus on when engaging with the government later this year. Do you have thoughts or concerns on the proposals? Help to influence our response.

Event 2: How to get ‘net zero’ housing done

Our final event was a panel session in partnership with the Institute for Government (IfG), chaired by IfG fellow Jill Rutter. Panellists included Chair of the House of Commons Environmental Audit Select Committee Philip Dunne MP, Chair of the RIBA Sustainable Futures Group and Regional Leader of Science and Technology at HOK Gary Clark, Director of Strategic Asset Management at Clarion Housing Group Alexandra Willey and Senior Researcher at the Institute for Government Tom Sasse.

RIBA Chief Executive Alan Vallance introduced the event, expressing support for the direction of travel signified by the government in recent years to help the UK reach net zero. However, he added that there is a need for greater ambition if we are to significantly improve the performance and reduce the environmental impact of our housing stock.

During the panel session, Philip Dunne MP expressed urgency for the Prime Minister to deliver a path to net zero with COP 26 taking place in the UK next year. Gary Clark agreed and warned that we can no longer build any new buildings that are unsustainable before encouraging the government to adopt targets as outlined in the RIBA 2030 Climate Challenge.

Our panellists also agreed that existing buildings pose even greater threats to the environment, and must be retrofitted immediately. Tom Sasse warned that there are 29 million existing homes in the UK, 85% of which are heated by gas boilers. Gary Clark highlighted the importance of preserving the embodied carbon in a building by prioritising retrofitting before building new and Alexandra Willey suggested that the roll out of a national retrofit scheme could lead to the creation of half a million jobs by 2024.

Interested in finding out more? Watch the event.

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