PFBC and UN-Habitat Host London Conference on Planning for Rapid Urbanisation

London Conference on Planning for Rapid Urbanisation in the Commonwealth leads to a new methodology for sustainable urban development.

Press Release, 20th March 2017, London: The Planning for Rapid Urbanisation in the Commonwealth Conference co-convened by the Prince’s Foundation for Building Community (the Foundation) and UN-Habitat at Australia House, London on 22nd and 23rd February 2017 provided an opportunity to work towards a methodology for implementing the New Urban Agenda (NUA) and delivering against the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The Conference brought together a number of key partners, including the Commonwealth Local Government Forum, Commonwealth Association of Planners and the Commonwealth Association of Architects to develop a methodology and tools that would be used to help operationalise UN-Habitat's International Guidelines for Urban & Territorial Planning (IG-UTP), in the context of the NUA and the SDGs. The Guidelines provide national governments, local authorities, civil society organisations and planning professionals with a global reference framework that promotes more compact, socially inclusive, better integrated and connected cities and territories that foster sustainable urban development and are resilient to climate change (1).

The rapid urbanisation project was launched via a video message from HRH The Prince of Wales, Founder and President of the Prince's Foundation for Building Community, on 7th November 2016 at the Commonwealth Association of Planners’ biennial conference in Fiji.

Delegates at Rapid Urbanisation Conference sit and discuss around table Rapid urbanisation is the largest demographic challenge of the 21st century. In 2014, 54 per cent of the world’s population were living in urban areas. Continuing urbanisation and overall growth of the world’s population is projected to add 2.5 billion people to the urban population by 2050. At the same time, the proportion of the world’s population living in urban areas is expected to increase, reaching 66 per cent by 2050 (2). The fast pace and scale of growth in urban areas, particularly in developing countries, means that without proper spatial planning more than half the world's urban population will be condemned to living in informal settlements, with the attendant negative environmental and social implications.

In 2015, the urban population of the Commonwealth was 879 million people but this is estimated to rise to 1.3 billion people by 2030. Urbanisation will increase from 38% to 45% over this period of time (3). In many parts of the Commonwealth, the problem of rapid urbanisation is compounded by there being too few property and planning professionals working in the built environment, and of those that do exist, most are invariably concentrated in the capital cities. However, much of the projected urban growth is likely to be in secondary and smaller cities where the capacity to develop and enforce urban framework plans is often extremely limited. The need for specialist support is therefore critical in order to meet the wide range of targets set out in the SDGs. The NUAidentifies Planned City Extensions as a key tool for addressing urbanisation challenges and contains specific commitments from governments in this direction.

"The current speed at which rapid urbanisation is engulfing Commonwealth cities means that we cannot rely on our existing ways and methods to deal with the threat. All of the partners are agreed that a new, simple and streamlined methodology is now needed to tackle this phenomenon," said Ben Bolgar, Chair of the Conference and Senior Director, Prince's Foundation for Building Community. 

A focal area for the Conference was the need to prioritise sustainable and resilient urban development within the Commonwealth's objectives, as it represents the only basis on which many of the SDG targets will be achieved. Commonwealth Heads of State have already joined the international commitments to address rapid urbanisation, included in Agenda 2030 and NUA. Delegates at the Conference agreed that a Commonwealth mandate was now needed to respond to rapid urbanisation. 

"If the Commonwealth is to achieve its objectives on health, sanitation, education and prosperity then it must now deliver as a priority a high level strategy for responding to rapid urbanisation," explained Ben Bolgar.

Delegates stand in line on podium at Rapid Urbanisation Conference The partners agreed that a practical 'bare bones' methodology and tools would be developed that would be integrated into the IG-UTP and support planned extensions to secondary cities where urban growth is often most rapid. The tools would be simple, robust and implementable for even the smallest city to use and relevant to all local government professionals with planning responsibilities. The 'bare bones' methodology would allow for a tiered approach that would tie-in basic elements common to all cities whilst being flexible to take into account local conditions and existing country frameworks. The creation of adequate public space, the promotion of mixed uses, social diversity and adequate density were identified as key to sustainable expansion patterns.

The partners acknowledged that a methodology that offers a spatial plan alone would have little success. UN-Habitat’s three-pronged approach offers a way forward and advocates that to be truly implementable, a plan needs to have a sound financial plan and to be supported by appropriate governance structures and regulations. 

"Tackling sustainable rapid urbanisation in Commonwealth countries needs to take a multi stakeholder, multi scale and multi-sector approach. The Guidelines had taken advantage of the three pronged approach promoted by UN-Habitat: legislation, planning and design and municipal finance," said Remy Sietchiping, of UN-Habitat's Urban Planning and Design Branch.

The tools will also prove valuable to the implementation of the NUA and to the IG-UTP beyond the Commonwealth, as the expected rise of unplanned urban growth continues. Research by New York University shows that 64% of the world's cities have doubled in size and 28% of cities have quadrupled between 1990 and 2015 and these figures are expected to continue rising (4).

"The shared values and institutions of the Commonwealth makes it well placed for implementing the NUA and SDGs, but the Commonwealth by acting now can also provide the world with valuable global leadership on tackling the international threat from rapid urbanisation," said Lucy Slack, Deputy Secretary General, Commonwealth Local Government Forum.

Over the next 12 months the Foundation and partners will be running workshops in Sierra Leone, Ghana, Uganda, India, New Zealand and Jamaica to test, develop and refine the tools to ensure they respond to the diverse needs of a range of different contexts. They will also explore collaboration with the UN-Habitat Urban Planning and Design Lab for joint testing and implementation.

As the methodology evolves the Foundation will also test the tools through its existing education and CPD programmes and through events such as World Town Planning Day and RIBA's International Week.

Delegates of Rapid Urbanisation Conference at a Reception with HRH The Prince of Wales

 The Conference concluded with a meeting and reception at Clarence House with HRH The Prince of Wales. The Prince of Wales was able to hear about the planning and methodology his Foundation and the partners will now adopt in addressing the challenge of rapid urbanisation in the Commonwealth.

Clive Harridge, Secretary-General of the Commonwealth Association of Planners (CAP), said: 

The challenges posed by rapid urbanisation are enormous and CAP is delighted to be a partner of this initiative which will help create more a more sustainable future. The project will help implement CAPs Fiji Declaration (5) which calls on Commonwealth Governments to take urgent actions to deliver the UNs New Urban Agenda and Sustainable Development Goals.”

For further information see



(2). UN World Urbanisation Prospects, 2014

(3). Satterthwaite, D. 2016 Successful, safe and sustainable cities: towards a New Urban Agenda.(

(4). Atlas of Urban Expansion 2016, New York University, UN-Habitat & Lincoln Institute of Land Policy

(5). Fiji Declaration, Commonwealth Association of Planners, (2016)


For media interviews and further information, please contact:

Marcus Stanton, The Prince's Foundation for Building Community: 

T 020 8617 0210 M 07900891287


Prince’s Foundation for Building Community

The Prince’s Foundation believes that sustainably planned, built and maintained communities improve the quality of life of everyone who is part of them. They help us to both live better at a local level and start dealing with the broader challenges of urbanisation and climate change. 

For over 20 years we have been supporting people to plan the future of their community, to learn the skills they need to build sustainably and to share the results as examples of best practice in urban design, architecture, planning and construction.

Commonwealth Local Government Forum

The Commonwealth Local Government Forum (CLGF) was founded in 1995, as a focus for action on local democracy in the Commonwealth. It works to promote and strengthen democratic local government across the Commonwealth and to encourage the exchange of best practice. It has some 200 members in 45 Commonwealth countries including national ministries of local government, local councils, and local government associations.

Commonwealth Association of Planners

The Commonwealth Association of Planners (CAP) was founded in 1971 and represents over 40,000 planners in 28 countries across the Commonwealth. CAP's Mission is to meet the challenges of urbanisation and the sustainable development of human settlements.


UN-Habitat is the United Nations programme working towards a better urban future. Its mission is to promote socially and environmentally sustainable human settlements development and the achievement of adequate shelter for all. Through drawing together cooperation with partners and stakeholders, 
and urban actors UN-Habitat applies technical expertise, normative work 
and capacity development to implement the New Urban Agenda and Sustainable 
Development Goal 11 - to make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and