How do they do it? Planning academic Cliff Hague

Written by: Colin Marrs
Published on: 6 May 2014

Cliff Hague

Emiritus professor professor of planning and spatial development at Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh, Cliff Hague has his fingers in a number of pies.

As well as his academic role, he also acts as voluntary chairman of networking organisation The Built Environment Forum Scotland (BEFS), along with carrying out research work on a number of research projects for the European Observation Network for Territorial Development and Cohesion.

Q. What are your objectives in your current role and how are you measured against them?

A. I have a number of roles these days, and operate in a freelance way. My overall objective has been to enjoy myself and I can measure that in a subjective and personal way. With BEFS, we had some clear objectives in terms of retaining financial support from Historic Scotland, which we managed to do. For the European research projects, the degree of reporting varies from project to project. There is usually some liaison with the client – there are political sensibilities around some of the material and we have to make sure we do not create problems, so sit down at the beginning of a project to discuss the messages. The detail is usually left to me.

Q. What key lessons have you learned during your career that help you to fulfil those objectives?

A. Realise your importance. I have been very fortunate. I had a career where I could be paid to stand up and be paid to talk about things and have travelled extensively. My main message is that the issues of urban development are of global significance. It may not always seem like it for a planner working in development management in a district council. But they need to see themselves in an international context and recognise the importance of their work – there are 185,000 people a day added to the population of urban centres across the world and that trend is set to continue for years to come.

Community planning initiatives need political buy-in. I spent well over a decade as a voluntary advisor in planning and housing in one of the Edinburgh housing estates – Craigmillar. I was involved in trying to build more participatory, and bottom up approaches to planning. The lesson from that was that it is difficult to deliver that kind of change purely from the bottom up. The council, and in particular the housing department, didn’t buy into it, and the initiative floundered.

The nature of planning means you are always in a position to learn. One of the things about being a planner is wherever you are you are always looking at a place and thinking and absorbing everything about it. Whether going to a friend’s house or going on holiday you learn from seeing places and seeing places. I find that exciting. Wherever you go there is something you can look at and learn from.