Get used to the new show in town

Planners need to adapt to the changes to the system or make way for those who will, says Graeme Bell

Planning can be a terrific force for sustainable development. Paul Lindsay photo
Planning can be a terrific force for sustainable development. Paul Lindsay photo

Dear agony aunt,

I'm a senior planner in local government. When I started work, it all seemed so promising, so secure. However, I had just got our first local plan adopted when the Government decided to change to local development frameworks. Then, when I was just about to publish our draft core strategy, the regional spatial strategy was abolished and this localism agenda emerged with no real guidance on what it all means.

I switched to development control for a few years, but I felt like a hamster in a wheel working against the clock. And to cap it all, we will now have to work longer and pay more for a smaller pension.

My morale is rock bottom and I'm thinking of a career change. What do you suggest?


Dear planner,

Having edited your letter down from 16 pages when one side of A4 would have done, have you ever considered that you are part of the problem rather than the solution?

Many planners were working on the third review of their local plan in the time you've taken to get your first adopted. And some have got their core strategy in place while you've been writing and rewriting long reports with no discernible outcomes.

If others can do it, why can't you? I bet that when you were working in development control, you asked for every piece of information under the sun just to be on the safe side. And haven't you read the papers? Planners in the private sector have been made redundant, taken pay cuts and are still paying taxes to fund your pension. Stop whingeing.

Of course things aren't easy. All new governments blame the last lot and then, driven by dogma and policy wonks from outer space, make policy on the hoof. Promoting localism while encouraging development seems an impossible combination, but it is the only show in town, so get used to it.

Planning is blessed with some amazingly creative minds and ways will be found. Indeed, part of your job is to come up with practical solutions. Later, or hopefully sooner, some of the sharp corners will get rubbed off as ministers dilute principles for pragmatism. Your local community is paying you to do a positive job, not to be a passive observer or, at worst, a chronic obstacle to economic growth.

Planning at its best is a terrific force for sustainable development and there are many examples of that around the country, but people like you have made the profession an easy target for those looking for scapegoats for all the nation's ills.

If you still can't hack it as a planner, then I suggest you join a political party and get elected as an MP. The hours are lousy but you get decent holidays. The pay is not bad, the expenses are generous and it's perfectly possible to survive on the back benches where you can do little damage. Shape up or ship out.

Graeme Bell is a past president of the Planning Officers Society. These views are his own.

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Sign up now
Already registered?
Sign in

Join the conversation with PlanningResource on social media

Follow Us:
Planning Jobs

Our Events