Networks and Magnets: Speaker Biographies

A joint conference between The Academy of Urbanism and RIAI across two sessions to examine the conditions that are enabling small and medium-sized cities to achieve growth, prosperity and a good quality of life for all.

Darragh O’Brien TD
Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage

Darragh O’Brien TD was appointed Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage in June 2020. He is an elected TD for the constituency of Dublin-Fingal. Prior to his election to the 30th Dáil in 2007, Minister O’Brien worked mainly in Financial Services and was elected to Fingal County Council in 2004. He was elected to Seanad Éireann in 2011.

He has held various positions within the Oireachtas including Vice-Chairperson of the Public Accounts Committee, Member of the Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Law Reform, Leader of Fianna Fáil in the Seanad and Opposition Frontbench Spokesperson on Dublin, Foreign Affairs and Housing.

Frank Allen
Chairman Iarnród Éireann—Irish Rail

Frank Allen is Chairman of Iarnród Éireann—Irish Rail. He is an independent financial consultant, advising on infrastructure investment and operations, mostly in developing and transition economies. He was Chief Executive of the Railway Procurement Agency during the planning and implementation of Luas (Dublin Light Rail) and prior to that he was Head of Infrastructure Finance at KBC Bank and worked for the World Bank in Washington DC. He is a graduate of University College Cork and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In addition to transport infrastructure, Frank has an interest in Social Housing and has held a number of advisory and board roles in that sector.

Thom Aussems
Former CEO, Trudo Housing Association, Eindhoven

Thom Aussems is a Dutch authority in urban renewal and city transformation. He holds Master’s Degrees in Law, Financial Economics and Business Administration from the University of Tilburg, a qualification in community work from the Social Academy in Eindhoven, as well as a Master’s Degree in Real Estate from Amsterdam School of Real Estate. He spent his early career undertaking community work and contributing to a number of urban renewal projects, settling in the 1980s in the municipality of Rotterdam, at the time the world leader in urban renewal. This was followed by ten years of running his own consultancy.

Martin Colreavy
Senior Advisor – National, Regional and Urban Planning Division
Head of Urban Policy, Regeneration and Capital Investment
Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage

Martin is currently a member of the senior management team in the Planning and Urban Policy Division of DHLGH, with an advisory and oversight role in the areas of Urban Policy and Regeneration, National Planning Framework implementation via Project Ireland 2040 and a €2 billion capital investment programme under the National Development Plan (Urban Regeneration and Development Fund) including the Towns Centre First Programme.

From 2008 – 2018 he was the Chief Architectural Advisor/Principal Officer in the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and head of business for Built Heritage, Architectural Policy and Strategic Infrastructure. He had specific responsibility for National Built Heritage Policy, Legislation and Planning, Built Heritage Capital Investment Funding, the Government Policy on Architecture Implementation programme (chair), National Landscape Strategy and bodies such as the Heritage Council and Waterways Ireland.

Previously within the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government (2003 -2008) as a Senior Housing/Urban Design Advisor, he was responsible for various housing capital investment and Regeneration programmes including policy documents on Architecture and Urban Design, such as Quality Housing for Sustainable Communities 2007.

Having extensive previous experience as a Senior Architect within the private sector since 1995, working both in Ireland and Germany, Martin has been involved in many major award winning developments in Civic Design, Urban Design, mixed-use developments, educational buildings and Housing.

Martin has also held various positions in the Royal Institute of Architects of Ireland (RIAI) such as professional practice examiner 2004-2007, RIAI Honorary Treasurer 2008-2009, RIAI Vice-President 2010, Chair RIAI Urban Design Committee 2010-2015. He is both a registered Architect and has an MSc Urban Design from UCD (2003) and has been an Honorary Academician of the Academy of Urbanism since 2007, an organization which promotes exemplary practice in quality Urbanism throughout Great Britain and Ireland.

Professor Wulf Daseking
Former Head of City Planning Office, Freiburg

From 1978-84, at the age of 31, Prof Wulf Daseking was the Director of City Planning Office in Mülheim/Ruhr – a City of 185,000 inhabitants. Between 1984-2012 he was Head of the City Planning Office in Freiburg. During that time the City was transferred into a Green City. Since 2010, he has been a Professor at the University of Freiburg ( Sociology ) and also Assistant Professor at University College London / Bartlett School. He has over 30 years of experience in City Planning and Urban Development. For his successful and consequent work on Planning and Regional Concepts, the City of Freiburg was awarded The European City of the Year 2010 by the Academy. In the ‘Charter of Freiburg – Requirements on Urban Development and Planning for the Future’, he wrote down those principals which were important for his planning. This Charter is published together with the Academy and is widespread and well known. Prof Daseking is a strong advocate for the development of dense, heterogeneous cities, urban development that is oriented towards public transportation, decentralised urban development and ‘Cities of the Short Way’ – that enjoy social equilibrium and differentiated citizen participation!

Bev Hindle
Executive Director, Oxford to Cambridge Arc Leadership Group

Bev’s role is to lead a collaborative network of 30+ Local Authorities and local economic partners from across the area Government has identified as the Oxford to Cambridge Arc.  Centred on a strong economic vision for the Arc, this emerging network will work closely with the Arc universities, Government, business and the public to define and seek a common narrative for the Arc ensuring we are planning to deliver clean, green and inclusive sustainable communities for now and the future. 

Meg Kaufman
Head of Outreach, What Works Centre for Local Economic Growth

Meg is Head of Outreach at What Works Centre for Local Economic Growth and works with the team to ensure both the reviews, research and outreach and engagement all meet the Centre’s objectives.

Meg’s role is based at the Centre for Cities and her particular interest is in building partnerships between the many diverse interests that operate in large cities. She has held a variety of roles during her 20 year career in economic development. Before joining the What Works Centre for Local Economic Growth, she worked as a consultant advising Business Improvement Districts and local authorities, and managing the London/NY Dialogue.

Meg spent five years at the London Development Agency on the Property Development team developing strategies to leverage more private funding into the Agency’s projects. Before that she managed the research team at the City of London, and structured public/private financing packages for urban development projects at the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation.

David Littlejohn
Head of Planning, Perth and Kinross Council

Having initially worked in local government and the private sector, David then joined economic development agency Scottish Enterprise. As Director in their Aberdeen office he had responsibility for key sectors, business infrastructure and step-change projects across the North-East of Scotland. In 2010 David was appointed Head of Planning & Development at Perth & Kinross Council. His portfolio covers land use planning, housing strategy, economic development, transport planning, building standards, commercial property investment and estates management. David also led the Tay Cities Deal negotiation to secure investment into the region to deliver step-change economic growth projects. David is a graduate of the Universities of Aberdeen and Glasgow. He is a Member of the Royal Town Planning Institute and a Fellow of the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA).

Councillor John Merry, CBE
Deputy City Mayor of Salford and Chair of Key Cities Group

Councillor Merry was elected to the position of Leader of Salford City Council in May 2003 and was awarded the CBE in 2009 for Services to Local Government.

It was his educational background that led to his appointment to the Further Education Funding Council and then in the year 2000 appointed as a Member of both the Local and National Learning & Skills Councils, with him remaining on the National LSC as a special advisor for a number of years.  Other portfolios included the LGA Finance & Strategy Executive, North West Development Agency and Deputy Chair of the Children & Young People Board.

Following the election of the City’s first Directly Elected Mayor in 2012 he was given responsibility for the Children & Young People’s portfolio and later the Skills & Work agenda which complemented his continued role on the LGA Children & Young People’s Board. The election of the second Directly Elected Mayor in May 2016 then led to his appointment to the position of Deputy City Mayor & Lead Member for Children’s and Young People’s Services. In December 2019 he was elected as Chair of the Key Cities Group.

Kevin Murray
Director, Kevin Murray Associates

Kevin Murray is a highly experienced town planner and urbanist, a Fellow and Past President of the RTPI and a Founding Director of The Academy of Urbanism. He has a specialism in complex community and stakeholder engagement.

Kevin founded Kevin Murray Associates in 2002, having previously been a Director of Tibbalds and EDAW.

He regularly facilitates the development of visions and strategies, action plans and development projects, with and for communities. He has worked in national and regional planning, urban regeneration, masterplanning and urban design, and community and stakeholder engagement.

He has also provided expert evidence on townscape and spatial planning matters to public inquiries, as well as to both Houses of the UK Parliament. He served on the Egan Review and Academy of Sustainable Communities.

Kevin is Honorary Professor of Planning at Glasgow and Dundee Universities and a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences. He teaches spatial planning futures and stakeholder engagement. Currently, Kevin is Chair of Partners in Planning, skills and knowledge network.

Biljana Savic
DipArch MSc ARB AoU MRTPI
Director, The Academy of Urbanism and Interim Head of Urban Design and Integration at HS2

Biljana is an urban planner and architect with extensive experience gained at senior positions in transport infrastructure and design advisory bodies, architectural, urban planning and construction management consultancies. She is a passionate advocate for people-focused and collaborative placemaking, with expertise in design clienting, design review, collaborative design facilitation, masterplanning and large scale spatial strategies.

Biljana heads the Urban Design and Integration Team at High Speed Two, currently the biggest transport infrastructure project in Europe. Her previous senior roles include positions at Crossrail 2 (part of Transport for London), The Prince’s Regeneration Trust and The Prince’s Foundation for Building Community, as well as The Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE), and Space Syntax Limited.

Biljana is a non-executive Director of the Academy of Urbanism. Her current professional appointments also include membership of the William Sutton Prize for Placemaking and Affordable Housing Design judging panel, Croydon Council’s Place Review and Glass-House Enabling panels. Biljana became a Winston Churchill Fellow in 2014, specialising in community led design and development.

Charlotte Sheridan, RIAI Board Member, Director of Sheridan Woods Architects & Urban Planners, Board Director of NAMA

Charlotte Sheridan is a registered architect and town planner and a member of the Royal Institute of Architects of Ireland (RIAI) and the Irish Planning Institute (IPI), with over 20 years’ professional experience as a director of Sheridan Woods, an architecture and urban planning practice. She has specialised in urban regeneration, housing, sustainable communities and collaborative planning in towns and cities in Ireland, with past experience in London and Berlin. Charlotte was elected to the RIAI Council in 2018 and appointed Honorary Secretary for 2019–2020. She is a Non-Executive Director and Board Member of the RIAI since January 2019. Charlotte was appointed as a Board Member of NAMA, the National Asset Management Agency, in December 2020.

Duncan Sutherland
Deputy Chair, Homes England

Duncan Sutherland is a housing practitioner with over 35 years’ experience in property, housing, investment, regeneration and development with emphasis on public and private partnerships, involving government, local government, local communities and private investors.

Duncan is the Group Regeneration Director for Sigma Capital PLC and Chairman of Sigma Inpartnership Ltd and was also an HS2 board member between 2012 and 2018 with a focus on the benefits of regeneration and development. Duncan was appointed to the Board of Homes England in 2018, and is Deputy Chair.

Judith Sykes
Director, Useful Projects

With a background in civil engineering consultancy and a Master’s Degree in Sustainable Development from Cambridge University, Judith has over 15 years experience developing and delivering sustainable projects around the world.

Recognised for her insightful and collaborative approach to urban development, Judith is regularly invited to speak on the complexities of sustainable design in the delivery of an integrated built environment.

Judith has worked with government organisations, major developer clients and asset owners, and has particular expertise in city and urban resilience, sustainable infrastructure design, asset management and closed loop engineering.