The effects of the credit crunch are now hitting the number of new schemes, but there are still plenty of projects being worked on. For planners it is an exciting area of work. Levels of satisfaction can be high as town centres are transformed with modern shopping and leisure facilities.
Giulia Bunting, head of planning with consultancy Drivers Jonas, describes Grosvenor's Liverpool One development as "one of the most fulfilling projects in my career". Liverpool One is an enormous retail development in the city centre which also boasts a cinema, two hotels and 600 apartments.
Bunting started work on the scheme more than eight years ago and it took up a significant amount of her time for five years, heading up a team of five consultants. Drivers Jonas had to co-ordinate planning applications for 30 different sites as part of the project. "You have to be a project manager as much as a professional planner," she says.
Ron Rees, who is project director for Sheffield City Council on the Sevenstone development, specialised in urban design and regeneration earlier in his career. But he agrees that in town centre and retail planning the planning professional has to be an all-round manager and director in one.
Rees heads up the management team overseeing the Sevenstone project, a £600 million shopping development with 400 homes in Sheffield city centre. His role is to oversee the day-to-day running of the scheme. The local authority's chief executive, as "project champion", irons out any political difficulties.
Planners moving into the town centre field work closely with commercial partners, explains Savills planning and regeneration director Peter Dixon. "In some people's minds retail planning has a mystique about it. They are scared by the prospect of the number crunching, but it is only a tiny part of the job," he says.
The opportunity to change the face of an urban centre is a prospect that many planners find exciting. There is no doubt that it can be extremely challenging but also highly rewarding. "With the emphasis shifting to deliverability as the test for a planning proposal, then any other sector you might look at should be approached in the same way," says Dixon.
PROFILE - BEN WRIGHTON, Planning and environment partner, Cushman & Wakefield
Advising developers and investors on town centre mixed-use schemes is part of a range of duties for Ben Wrighton, a partner in Cushman & Wakefield's planning and environment team. He also advises councils and regeneration agencies on urban design, planning strategy and land assembly. Wrighton studied town and regional planning at the University of Sheffield and also has an urban design qualification from London South Bank University. "Thinking innovatively about projects during these challenging times motivates me and I enjoy working in a multidisciplinary environment," he says.