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Communities must engage more fully in planning to create places where “people can really flourish”, according to a leading University of Ulster academic.

Delivering her inaugural lecture at the Jordanstown campus Deborah Peel, Professor of Planning Research and Scholarship, talked in depth about the importance of planning in creating resilient places and communities.

“The idea of resilience is being increasingly used in relation to all aspects of our lives – from resilient construction to resilient local government,” she told an invited audience.

“The term resilience is used in different ways to indicate how places, businesses or individuals cope with change or bounce back after some kind of external shock.

“However, the big question is whether we try to return to business as usual or go for innovation and do things differently.”

Professor Peel argued that the ideas of Patrick Geddes, the Scottish pioneer of modern town and regional planning, were relevant to today’s issues, such as climate disruption.

“In the early twentieth century Patrick Geddes made clear connections between community, work and place – he worked on the premise that ‘folk planning is community planning’,” she explained.

“Today we talk about sustainability and the need to integrate the economy with society and the environment. We need the governance structures to be able to engage local communities in designing places that are resilient and able to cope with the unpredictable effects of climate change.”

Professor Peel stressed the critical importance of communities engaging in planning in order to create places where “people can really flourish”.

“Regeneration schemes work best when communities lead the change and identify what will really make a difference to their lives,” she explained.

Contrary to current arguments that we need ‘less planning’, she made the case for ‘more planning’ so that the public interest can be restored.

“One only has to look at the leadership offered by organisations such as the United Nations in their Better City Better Life campaign to see that participatory, decision-making processes are critical to creating resilient, green, inclusive, productive, safe and healthy urban environments. Surely this is what we want to see in Northern Ireland?”

In highlighting the enormous potential for Northern Ireland to integrate planning reform with community planning, Professor Peel pointed to the need for new interdisciplinary professionals.

“Today’s challenges are highly complex and the impacts of climate change are uncertain – we need hard, scientific evidence but we also need to be aware of community ties and fears. Here the social sciences are vital,” she said.

“Communicating and understanding the challenges we face as a society are crucial if we want to avoid human suffering.

“More than ever we need professionals who can span professional, geographical and disciplinary boundaries and creative planning graduates able to support communities to manage change.”