When attempting to explain his job to his Italian evening class tutor, Nottingham City Council director of planning and transport Adrian Jones chose his words carefully. "Duce d'urbanista, trasporti e la strada," he explained. "You're a traffic warden?" she responded.
The confusion is understandable. The two disciplines rarely fall within a senior officer's remit these days. But Jones, who retired last month, attributes the success of his 30-year career to the integration of planning and transport. "Some planners think that having a transport responsibility would be difficult, but it's a fantastic opportunity. You cannot sort out the public realm unless you're in charge of transport," he argues.
He certainly had his work cut out in a city centre that was redeveloped after the Second World War with fast roads and grey tower blocks. Yet Nottingham has seen an eight per cent rise in public transport use in five years, while city centre congestion has remained static for a decade. Nottingham Express Transit is the only light rail service in the country to exceed passenger forecasts and carries ten million people a year.
Jones has seen many projects from around the country in his role on the CABE design review panel. A glaring problem in many schemes is that urban design has to fit around highways design, he says. "In Nottingham it's all completely integrated because we're a unitary authority. There are still tensions, but ultimately the highway designers, urban designers and development control officers all have a common sense of where they want to go. That is unusual."
Jones has an unusual background. He studied history and started off with the aim of being a conservation officer. When he failed to find a position, he took a job as a planner in Nottingham and discovered that he was an "ideas person, not a details person". His knowledge of the city's history is evident as he points out the Lace Market and explains how the city evolved from two settlements. "It's a strange spectrum, but I've found it useful," he admits.
He found this cross-cutting ability useful when the planning and transport teams were combined in 1998, after the city council secured unitary status. The authority had been working on its City 2000 strategy, which outlined what Nottingham should look like by the millennium. The merger of planning and transport functions made a huge difference to implementation, Jones believes.
Until that point, the council had been following a plan drawn up in 1965 that recognised the "bedlam" caused by city traffic but recommended a six-lane motorway as a solution. Fortunately for Jones, not much in the plan had been built. Councillors were worried about the decline of the city centre with the growth of out-of-town shopping centres caused by Thatcherite obsessions with a free-market economy.
A key element of the millennial plan was the redevelopment of the Old Market Square, which Jones describes as the highlight of his time at the council. The layout of the square prevented events being held, yet it was popular and talk of change was resisted by residents. Last week the square scooped Civic Trust awards for outstanding contributions to the public realm hard landscaping and regeneration.
"The strategy was designed to tackle the out-of-town challenge," he explains. "The government told us that if we wanted our city centre to thrive, we would have to do it ourselves. The Old Market Square remodelling was a big risk because we were changing something people were fond of and telling them we thought it would be better. Watching people enjoy it now is a huge buzz."
The council is investigating a bid for transport innovation funding together with local authorities in Leicester and Derby. A consultation is scheduled for the summer, but meanwhile it is pursuing plans for a workplace parking levy. If the government approves it, employers offering more than ten parking spaces will face a charge. The levy is designed to help pay for 25 per cent of the extension to the city's tram.
The plans have been controversial. A Nottingham Chamber of Commerce survey indicated that 65 per cent of businesses will consider relocating if the charge is implemented. "We have to think it through carefully," Jones says. "But the overheads are low compared with road pricing. It's relatively simple to administer and could be brought in quickly."
Battles may lie ahead but Nottingham's planners are used to taking flak. "Planners are maligned but I feel that they are almost universally able to understand the broad context of things, rather than finding partial solutions like other professions," Jones says. "This is helped by a broad academic background, and there's nothing broader than history."
Family: Married with two daughters and an unruly labrador
Education: BA in history, London School of Economics, 1968; MSc in conservation, Heriot-Watt University, 1975; diploma in town planning, Trent Polytechnic, 1979
Interests: Dog walking, opera, foreign language films, history, Nottingham Forest Football Club
2008: Set up Adrian Jones Consultancy
2007: Member, CABE design review panel
1998: Director of planning and transport, Nottingham City Council
1990: Planning and transport strategy manager, Nottingham City Council
1982: Conservation officer, Nottingham City Council
1976: Trainee planner, Nottingham City Council
1970: Worked in publishing and marketing across Europe.