Charlotte Morphet, co-founder of Women in Planning and Planning Policy and design team leader at St Albans City & District Council on planning, planners, and diversity in the professions. As featured in New London Quarterly Issue 46.1. What is your proudest achievement and why?
Women in Planning is definitely my proudest achievement. Co-founding with Alison Mackay, we are proud of how we have grown it to be UK-wide; how it is supporting women in the sector, and wider built environment industry; but also how it has acted as a catalyst for diversity, inclusion and equality issues being bought to the fore in the planning sector. My personal proudest moment was publishing research on how many women work in leadership positions in private sector planning consultees. It was always spoken about, but never evidenced.
A close second is being accepted to do a PhD at Leeds Beckett University. I wasn’t the most naturally gifted academic at school, so it means a lot and proves how far I have come, mainly due to my tenacity.
2. What would you have been if you hadn’t chosen the path you did?
Good question. I studied Art History so likely something related to that field. Although, even when I was studying Art History my focus was always on places, how art was reflecting society at that moment in history and the history of architecture. I always majored in the town planning and design of classical civilisations (e.g. Greeks and Romans). I enjoyed learning about John Ruskin, William Morris and Octavia Hill – all had some relationship with the history of the town planning movement.
3. What or who has been the biggest influence on your career thus far?
Without a doubt it is my parents, Janice and Robin Morphet. They are both trained town planners. When I was growing up, however, they were off working in wider public sector, or academia. Both are based at UCL, the Bartlett. I have learnt a deep sense of purpose and responsibility from them in the work I do, but also about how to broaden my understanding beyond planning. Most importantly, I have learnt how to be a good mentor from them. They are always willing to assist people professionally and that is something I hope I do as well as them.
4. What would your advice be to those starting out in your profession?
Always remember this quote from Maya Angelou:
“I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Because the connections you make and networks you have will last your career. And if you’re not careful, you will learn this the hard way.
5. What would you say is the main challenge for planning in the UK?
To get planners to use the skills, knowledge and experience to responding effectively to the climate crisis.
6. How would you rate the recent white paper?
The devil is in the detail. Last time there was full scale planning reform of this sort in 2004, it took a long time embed. I just hope any reform will come with more resources for local government.
7. Do planners get the credit they deserve?
Probably not, but anyone that is coming into planning to get credit is probably in the wrong profession. We are the conveners in the background trying to bring it all together.
8. How are the built environment professions performing with regard to diversity issues?
Overall, we know the Built Environment is not performing well. However, the issue is much further up the agenda than I have seen in 10 years. Whether this is different to previous peaks in activities in the late 1990s and early 2000s, I am not sure.
9. How can this be improved?
It follows on from above, really, we know the Built Environment is not performing well. However, knowing that isn’t going to be enough. We need consistent data and analysis across the built environment professions. That way we can truly measure any progress, what is and isn’t’ working.
Consistent data collection across all the professional bodies/ institutes would be a good start. This would allow each profession can be directly compared against each other. Not to say one is better than the other, but if one is more successfully bridging the divide, another profession can learn from them.
10. What would be your one piece of advice to local authorities in this area?
Please do not be complacent. Although local government has been a pioneer in equality, diversity and inclusion, there is still more that can be done. Also remember local government was the pioneer – that should be remembered with pride and positively set out in job adverts.
11. How do you think planning/development in London and the UK generally will fare over the coming months and years?
I am not sure any of us in the industry could predict that right now; I don’t think anyone has the answers. I am interested to see what the long-term response will be to the pandemic
12. What’s next for you?
For me personally, using the COVID period of weekends at home to crack on with my PhD methodology statement. For Women in Planning, moving forward our business plan with our recently appointed advisory board