Planner Katie Atkinson on the countryside and volunteering for CPRE
CPRE local groups are rich with expertise and passion for the countryside, and planning consultant Katie Atkinson is no exception, who volunteers for CPRE North & East Yorkshire.
We had the opportunity to ask Katie a few questions about her work, what ‘good planning’ looks like, and why she loves the Yorkshire countryside!
On getting into planning
Katie grew up in a household that valued sustainability and eco-friendly practices, and this became rooted in her formative career steps. ‘I spent time volunteering for charities like RSPB and for the Flamborough Head Heritage Coast project, so it was inevitable that I would gravitate towards a career in the environmental field’, she says.
But where did planning come into all of this? Katie adds ‘I was told that to really understand Environmental Impact Assessment, I’d need to take a Town Planning degree.’ During her time at Newcastle University, Katie found herself graduating towards planning and decided to specialise in environmental planning.
It wasn’t too long before CPRE came into view for Katie ‘Having worked for Local Planning Authorities, the private sector and for a statutory consultee, I found myself attracted to a maternity cover role in my home patch of Yorkshire and the Humber with CPRE.’ She adds ‘My first day was the day the Government published the first version of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) – which definitely made my year busy as we got to grips with it!’
‘At the end of the role I bit the bullet and opened my own Planning Consultancy and found myself being retained by various local CPRE groups in the area and the rest, as they say is history!’
On the day to day at CPRE North & East Yorkshire
Katie is Vice Chair, Planning Lead and a trustee at CPRE North & East Yorkshire – which makes for a varied day-to-day experience. ‘On some days I find myself ‘head down’ working on responses to planning applications following requests by members or community groups. Other days I’m writing detailed policy consultation responses, or representing the charity at planning inquiries.’
Being a trustee carries plenty of responsibility by itself, and there’s lots of external representation involved. Katie adds, ‘As a trustee, I’m often in touch with members and representing CPRE NEY at external meetings and forums – for example the East Yorkshire Rural Partnership or Heritage Open Days.’
On her finest achievements
During her time at CPRE NEY, Katie has seen a lot of change (not least due to the pandemic). As trustees come and go, local group charities can be at risk of losing skills and knowledge. But the group is in a great place now, and it’s a source of huge pride for Katie. ‘Joining the Trustee Board in 2018 is definitely a highlight, having seen the charity through the pandemic and loss of trustees’. She adds, ‘we now have an (almost!) full, skills-based board to take CPRE NEY into the future, which is really exciting.’
Katie has been integral to some monumental planning wins too. ‘Having been heavily involved in the campaign against fracking across the country, I’m incredibly proud of the work we did to support the North Yorkshire Joint Minerals and Waste Local Plan’.
‘The plan was adopted following five years of public scrutiny, which coincided with several changes to ministerial statements on the matter, along with strong industry opposition to policies regarding landscape buffer zones and set-back distances from local communities.’
On what ‘good planning’ looks like
Planning is a hugely expansive, nebulous concept that takes in a whole host of environmental, political and scientific disciplines. But what does good planning look like? What best practices should we be striving for that ensure local communities are listened to, while balancing land use,the natural environment and rural regeneration?
‘Good planning, to me, consists of genuinely locally specific planning policies. It needs to acknowledge that a one-size-fits-all response to planning doesn’t work, especially in rural areas,’ Katie says. ‘Planning should be about place-making and character-enhancing. Our natural and historic environment should be protected and conserved for its own sake as well as for its benefits to physical and mental well-being. It isn’t simply about getting housing numbers on the ground at all cost!’
In the context of the climate and environmental crises, Katie thinks planners can affect positive change. ‘It’s essential for planners to lead the way in response to the climate and environment emergency, and for people to recognise just how much planning could achieve with proper resourcing ,staffing and political will!’
For Katie, there’s a sense that planning policy as adrift from current environmental concerns. ‘Planning policy needs to rapidly catch up with best practice and evidence, and halt all new fossil fuel extraction sites. It needs to provide the proper infrastructure and retrofitting required to allow the UK to generate our own renewable energy.’
‘At the same time, our Best and Most Versatile agricultural land should be protected to ensure food security and proper seasonal self-sufficiency. I would love to see local planning authorities be more ambitious with their policies, for example enforcing development on brownfield land, net zero developments, tree-lined streets, green infrastructure and ensuring above-minimum requirements for Biodiversity Net Gain.’
A strong local voice is integral to good planning, Katie says. ‘Local communities should be allowed a genuine voice in decision making. Planning Committee members should remember they don’t have to be bulled into approving all developments for fear of costs being awarded against them – as long as they can justify and evidence their decisions in relation to clear planning considerations.’
On why she loves the countryside
We know that the English countryside has so much to offer in times of physical and mental health, a sense of belonging, and the various ecosystem services it provides. For Katie, living in Yorkshire is always a joy. ‘I’m so lucky to live and work in this wonderful part of the world! We’ve got two National Parks, 4 Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, three Heritage Coasts and various sites of local, national and international significance.’
We asked Katie for her favourite spots in North & East Yorkshire, and although it was difficult to pick between them, she shared a few with us. ‘I love the tranquility of the North York Moors – you can go for a walk and see no-one else for miles. I also love the traditional Dales Valleys and their famous dry stone walls.’
‘A simple pleasure of mine is walking my labrador ‘Zeus’ through the rolling landscape of the Yorkshire Wolds at various times of the year. There’s always something to see: the changing colours, the wildflowers on the verges, and the hares running up and down the fields.’
But it’s the east coast of Yorkshire that Katie loves the most. ‘Perhaps my favourite landscape are the white cliffs of Flamborough Head and Bempton Cliffs, which project out into the north sea.’
And when it comes to her parting thoughts, we couldn’t agree more. ‘The countryside and coast ground me and give me the opportunity to step away from a computer screen, embrace fresh air and clear my head. They have provided some of my most precious memories throughout my life and as my two boys grow up, will no doubt continue to do so.’
Find out more
If you want to find out more about Katie’s planning consultancy work, you can visit her website here. Although Katie is based in Yorkshre, she offers her services to development and property industries, the public sector, communities and inviduals throughout northern England.
You can also find out more about CPRE North and East Yorkshire and their work by visiting their website.