How to build a career in town planning

A job as specific as a Town Planner can be difficult to get into so if you’re considering a career in Town Planning, it helps to get some advice. Below, we’ve laid out what a career in town planning looks like and the education, experience and skills you need to build your career in this rewarding role.

What is Town Planning?

Town Planning is everything to do with the construction of our built environment, within both the public and private sector. Before anything is built, it will likely need to go through the planning process and there are many aspects that will influence whether or not something can be built; including social, economic, environmental and aesthetic factors. Planners help to physically shape a place for the better and have a positive impact in society. They are dedicated to developing a more sustainable environment whilst also having a positive impact on the local economy; working closely with communities through neighbourhood planning to meet their needs.

An example of the work of a town planner is Hanham Hall, which was South Gloucestershire’s first site in the government’s Carbon Challenge initiative. It was a former NHS psychiatric hospital, which was neglected and in ruins, left without a purpose. To redevelop the area, council planners drew up a plan and used the area to create one of England’s first zero carbon communities. Hanham Hall, which was completed in 2015, is a fine example of aesthetic, environmental and social change for the better. As well as 187 new homes that were built, the redeveloped site also incorporated allotments, cycle and walking routes.

Private and public sector jobs

In the private sector, planners are employed by private consultancies within architecture, planning consultancies, surveying and property companies and developers. The private sector submits planning applications to Local Authorities in a bid to get planning consent.
In the public sector, the vast majority of planning jobs are in Local Authority planning teams but there are also opportunities in organisations such as the Environment Agency, Highways England and the Homes and Communities Agency. There are two main disciplines within the public sector; Development Management Planning and Planning Policy/Forward Planning. The role of the former is to process the planning applications submitted by the private sector and members of the public. This could range from an extension on a house and single plot builds, right up to huge housing developments, multi-use developments and even new cities, such as Ebbsfleet near Dartford. Negotiation skills and the ability to advise and liaise with members of the public, land owners and housing developers are essential when either refusing or consenting their requests.
Planning Policy Officers typically work on each Council’s Local Plan, which is a development plan for the local area usually over a five or 10 year period. This will include new major developments, housing, shops and new schools.

What education & experience do you need?

Typically planners will have a Geography degree and then an RTPI (Royal Town Planning Institute) accredited Masters. You can then achieve chartered status with a minimum of two years’ relevant professional experience. However, this level of education isn’t mandatory and not all existing and successful planners have gone down this route.
Whatever your level of education, work experience is vital for getting your foot in the door of this industry. We know that work experience, either at a private consultancy or council, is greatly valued by employers - not only can it get you into the industry, it can show great initiative and drive if you want to work your way up. Finding placements can be tough but most universities will have links with employers and can help students find work experience placements.

Another route into town planning is to take an entry level job in Local Government. This would allow you to obtain a good knowledge of council procedures which would help you transfer into a planning job later on.

Soft skills are always highly sought after in this market. Employers in the planning industry are seeking reliable, approachable and diplomatic candidates who have strong attention to detail, good time management and organisational skills and the willingness to work hard.

As town planners are frequently dealing with the public and clients, you’ll need to demonstrate an understanding of both sets of concerns and have to think strategically to make a decision that will benefit both sides.

Demand for Town Planners

Just like the infrastructure industry as a whole, town planning is currently a very skill short market. Due to the recession, which saw a lot of planners leave the industry, it has suffered a skills gap. The changes in legislation on planning around this time continued to squeeze budgets and public spending reviews also saw recruitment grind to a halt at this time. However, over the past few years, things have started to change and the outlook is much more optimistic.

For budding (and existing) planners, this is a very positive shift; salaries and hourly rates have gone up due to the competitive market crying out for planners. But more than attractive remuneration, town planning is a very rewarding job, and you can take great satisfaction in serving the public and balancing the needs of communities, businesses and the environment.

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