A variety of built environment awards are handed out every year by organisations such as the RTPI and RIBA. Is this just backslapping, or are there genuine benefits to be gained from entering projects for awards? David Blackman weighs up the pros and cons.
“When you’re doing the day job you just get on with it” says Helen Martin, head of planning at Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council.
However, while presenting her department’s work on regenerating Dudley town centre to colleagues at the authority, she realised that the team had achieved something that deserved wider recognition.
“We’ve created an environment where there is private sector interest and they are now starting to pick up the baton,” she says.
Add the way the council involved the local community and Martin felt there was a strong case for submitting an application to the 2015 RTPI Awards.
Her hunch was correct. The team carried off the award for Excellence in Planning for Built Heritage, a reward for 15 years of hard work in the town centre.
The RTPI Awards, alongside those organised by the likes of RIBA and RICS, acknowledge planning’s role in delivering better quality environments. For winners – and even those shortlisted – there may be a variety of benefits, ranging from the glow of recognition to a higher profile among potential clients and investors.
But entering for awards can be a daunting prospect. There’s no guarantee of success and, of course, preparing applications can be time-consuming.
Is it worth it?
(1) Higher profile
Winning awards is always a good calling card when seeking investment or trying to attract top-quality talent to your organisation.
Martin says her department has secured a higher profile following its success at the 2015 excellence awards.
“Inside the organisation it has massively helped to increase the profile of the planning service. It’s given us more visibility, so it’s easier for people to understand why we are here and what we do.
“Particularly if you work in development management you tend to get the bad press and senior managers find out about things when they have gone wrong or people complain,” she continues. “It’s quite nice to have a good news item which helps people see why we have planning policies and development management.”
And this can only help when battling to maintain existing services, she adds: “It does help to defend your service from losing resources because people understand the importance of it.”
(2) Team building
A fillip for the team is one of the chief benefits of winning or even being shortlisted for an award. Martin says: “For the individuals involved, it was hugely positive to get some recognition from inside and outside the organisation that we have done a good job. On an individual level, it has hugely boosted morale.”
(3) More work
For those working in the private sector, the big incentive when entering awards is the prospect of winning new contracts. Riette Oosthuizen heads the planning team at architect HTA Design, which won the 2015 RTPI Excellence in Planning for the Natural Environment award for its work on Hanham Hall, Barratt Homes’ flagship zero-carbon housing scheme in the Bristol outskirts.
She believes that the award has bolstered the practice’s credibility when competing for jobs against the larger commercial consultancies.
“It’s been fantastic because we are a small planning practice and we quite often come up against the big commercial practices when we are trying to win work. This type of exposure has meant a lot for us.”
(4) Good marketing
Winning a high-profile award will showcase your organisation’s work to a wider audience by generating publicity.
Aled Lloyd, head of planning at the Snowdonia National Park Authority, says that winning a UK-wide award - Excellence in Planning for Community and Well-Being - helped get across the message that planning can be a positive activity.
“We tend to be seen as rejecting most applications, so this was a good opportunity to showcase that we do approve good new developments, which are sustainable, in the national park. People appreciate that we need good-quality development in this rural area and are now more prepared to adapt their plans.”
(5) Appraising the organisation
A rigorous awards application process can give organisations an incentive to appraise how they are doing their job, a luxury often not available on a day-to-day basis, providing a new perspective.
Martin says: “It gave us time to reflect on what we had achieved, how it worked and why it was successful.”
A word of warning: entering awards can be a time-consuming process, which can distract attention from bread-and-butter activities.
Being shortlisted for an award will often generate additional demands for material.
But at least in the case of the RTPI Awards, Snowdonia’s Lloyd says the application process was “straightforward” and “quite enjoyable”, with the whole team pitching in to help.
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