Asked whether they expect their planning consultancy team to grow in the next 12 months, 42 per cent of firms agreed or strongly agreed, against 35 per cent in last year's survey.
The proportion ruling out team growth in the year ahead fell sharply, from 37 per cent last year to just under a quarter this September.
Mixed messages: consultancies unsure how 2012 will shape up
Team building: optimism about recruitment plans widespread
Testing times: fee incomes fall slightly in 2010/11
Consultancy survey home page
The survey shows that the number of chartered planners employed by the ten leading firms has fallen marginally over the past year from 886 to 870. But across all 97 firms taking part in both surveys, full Royal Town Planning Institute membership increased by 33 to 1,789.
Aggregate planning fee income for 43 firms that posted figures for both years show a £9 million drop, from £354 million in 2009/10 to £345 million last year.
However, average expectations of fee growth in the current financial year are eight per cent across all firms offering a prediction, double the growth rate predicted in the 2010 survey.
In another sign of returning confidence in the market, respondents expect to raise their daily fee rates by an average of three per cent next year, following a one per cent average rise during the year just gone by.
Barton Willmore remains the leading employer of UK-based chartered planners with 134, five more than last year. Senior partner Ian Tant said: "We're anticipating some opportunity for growth in key geographical areas where the market remains strong, in particular sectors such as energy and retail where work continues to come forward, and in key roles within our organisation."
Tim Holden, deputy managing director of WYG Planning & Design, said: "The emerging planning reforms provide opportunities for us to increase the numbers of planners we employ to help clients identify and promote development proposals."
However, only a quarter of respondents to the survey said that they expect the economic climate for development to improve in the next 12 months. Urban Vision planning director Dave Jolley said the planning market would remain challenging, "particularly with the housing market remaining flat".