Popularising president

Planning Officers Society president Steve Quartermain seeks to boost awareness of the body while maintaining his own authority's strong development plan record, reports Vicki Shiel.

Steve Quartermain was very much in demand when I eventually tracked him down at a busy conference. Fresh from his inauguration as president of the Planning Officers Society (POS), the Hambleton District Council planning chief was the man everyone wanted to meet and greet.

But he has no problem with the pressures of leading the POS, which celebrates its tenth anniversary this year. "It is exciting," he says. "People ask your opinions and want to know what you think. I am enjoying it very much. When John Silvester was president he cited it as one of his career highlights. Having just moved into the role, I can see what he means."

Quartermain joined the POS when he was promoted to director of planning and environmental services at Hambleton and remains dedicated to the cause. "I cannot belong to a club without getting involved and supporting it and the POS links with what I do for a living. I work in planning because I believe in it and am passionate about it," he explains.

The society's has been focusing on responding to the planning white paper. It welcomes the pledge to "put planning at the heart of what government does" but highlights concerns on major infrastructure and public involvement in the light of proposed changes to consultation procedures. It is also concerned about moves to let councillors decide certain types of appeal. "We are not in favour of appeals panels," says Quartermain.

The POS wants statutory recognition for chief planning officers' roles, guaranteeing professionally qualified planners a place on council management teams. But the issue will need revisiting now nine more unitary authorities have been endorsed. "It is important that the planning function keeps a high profile. The chief officer needs a role at the management table," Quartermain insists.

His position at Hambleton gives him plenty of opportunities to talk about planning in a positive way and some illuminating stories. The authority had its core strategy approved earlier this year (Planning, 23 February, p2), becoming the fourth council in the country to earn a sound rating. It has also won beacon status for promoting planning's role in creating sustainable communities.

Quartermain says the latter recognises the care taken in developing the core strategy alongside regional strategies for Yorkshire and Humberside. "We picked up the theme from government pronouncements about local development frameworks (LDFs) being the spatial representation of community plans," he notes.

The authority has been celebrating a reprieve following last month's rejection of North Yorkshire County Council's bid for unitary status. Quartermain remains convinced that it would be difficult to match services to people's needs in so large an area. "We thought the scale of the proposed unitary authority at odds with the goal of keeping local governance close to the community," he argues.

Hambleton is now working with the county council and neighbouring districts in reviewing enhanced two-tier working arrangements. "It is a good thing that the reorganisation will not go ahead because it would have led to a lot of waiting around," he argues. "It is not just about having a plan. For example, we are doing this to achieve the level of house building that we need."

Quartermain is a firm supporter of the Merton rule approach to embed renewable generation in buildings. With a planning policy statement on climate change due later this year, he will be lobbying for the rule to be kept. "If the government is serious about its approach to renewables it must continue to support the rule, not water it down," he contends.

Critics complain that generating ten per cent of commercial buildings' energy requirements from on-site renewable sources is unrealistic because some schemes, particularly in London, will struggle to meet the targets. But Quartermain responds: "If a London borough can pioneer and successfully implement the rule, why can other authorities not?"

Hambleton's development policies document went to public examination this summer and the inspector's report is due in December. A site allocations document goes out for consultation next month. The district could be on course for having a full LDF in place for 2009, subject to the inspector's report. "I am pleased and proud that we are leading on this," enthuses Quartermain.

POS responses to policy statements on housing and energy will add to the president's workload this autumn. But his enthusiasm is undiminished. "I am determined to ensure that the POS is recognised and is in people's minds, on people's lips and in people's papers. I want people to know what we do and why we are here," he concludes.

CV
Age: 52
Family: Married with four children
Education: BA in geography, University of Durham, 1977; diploma in
environmental planning, Chelmer Institute of Higher Education, 1984
Interests: Film, music, Norwich City Football Club
2007: President, Planning Officers Society (POS)
2005: Director, POS Enterprises
2004: Chairman, POS management committee
1997: Director of planning and environmental services, Hambleton
District Council
1988: Head of planning, Hambleton District Council


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