Twenty eminent planners

Alison Nimmo, Chief executive, The Crown Estate, BA (Hons) in town and country planning, University of Manchester, 1985

A leading figure in UK regeneration, Alison Nimmo has held a string of high-profile positions, and is now chief executive of the Crown Estate, the property business owned by the Crown. The organisation controls assets worth £8 billion, covering urban and rural property, agricultural land, forestry and almost all of the country's seabed, making it a key player in the UK's plans for offshore wind development.

After an early career as a town planner and then a chartered surveyor, Nimmo cut her teeth in major regeneration schemes in 1996 when she was appointed project director for the redevelopment of Manchester city centre after the IRA bombing that year. She went on to run urban regeneration company Sheffield One, before moving on to lead the London 2012 Olympics bid and later overseeing the planning of the Olympic Park for the Olympic Delivery Authority.

Nimmo says her early training as a planner gave her a sound introduction to many of the disciplines that she later used in her work on some of the UK's biggest regeneration schemes. "A planning qualification gave me a good general grounding in places, place-making, architecture and the political context," Nimmo says. "Although it's a professional qualification, it's also a general one, so it allows you to be able to stretch across different disciplines - engineering, architecture, landscape architecture - and take a view about joining things up. I went into regeneration and a lot of what that involves in terms of masterplanning and making things happen is about stitching together individual professions that sometimes have a slightly narrow view of life."

She developed the skills she learned at university first as a young planner in Australia's department for planning and transportation, and then, from 1986, as a planner at Westminster City Council, where she held various policy and development control roles. After a stint in the private sector as a chartered surveyor, Nimmo says she "fell into the evolving world of urban regeneration". She has remained linked to this world ever since.

Although Nimmo ascribes her post today to the huge amount of experience she has garnered over the years in her numerous roles, she says her training as a planner was a significant stepping-stone in her career because of the variety of skills it gave her.

"Planning is a really good general degree," Nimmo says. "It's a gateway into lots of things. It takes you into professions and jobs where every day is different and interesting and fascinating. I've been lucky with where I've ended up over the years. And a lot of what I do has a physical, tangible outcome, which I find hugely rewarding."

Sarah Boyack, Labour MSP for the Lothian region, shadow cabinet member for planning and local government, Diploma in town and country planning, Heriot-Watt University, 1985

As Scotland's minister for transport, environment and planning from 1999 to 2001, Sarah Boyack oversaw the introduction of key policy proposals, including legislation to establish Scotland's first national parks. She was convenor of the Scottish Parliament's environment and rural development committee from 2003 to 2007, before returning to office as deputy environment minister. Boyack covers planning, environment and local government issues in her brief as shadow cabinet member for the Scottish Labour party. Before entering mainstream politics in 1999, Boyack gained a diploma from Heriot-Watt University, after which she became a planning assistant at the London Borough of Brent and then a planning officer in Scotland's Central Regional Council, since abolished.


Aneurin Phillips, Chief executive, Snowdonia National Park Authority, MSc in town and country planning, Cardiff University (then UWIST), 1982

Rural marginalisation, balancing the needs of Englishand Welsh-speaking communities and protecting Snowdonia's unique natural heritage are just some of the challenges for Aneurin Phillips, chief executive of the Snowdonia National Park Authority. After gaining a professional planning qualification, Phillips was appointed planning assistant at Colwyn Borough Council in 1982 before becoming countryside planning assistant at Anglesey Borough Council in 1985. He later became head of planning services at Denbighshire County Council in 1996, a role he held until joining the park authority in 2003. According to one commentator contacted for this piece, Phillips' extensive planning background has given him good experience in balancing the many competing priorities of the park and its communities.

Clive Dutton, Director for regeneration, planning and property, London Borough of Newham, Diploma in town planning, Leeds Metropolitan University (then Leeds Polytechnic), 1975

Clive Dutton has arguably one of the country's highest profile council planning and regeneration roles. He steered the authority through the crucial final stages of preparing for the London 2012 Olympics. With the Games over, it will be Dutton's task - in conjunction with the London Legacy Development Corporation - to ensure that the regeneration momentum in this part of east London continues. Dutton's in-tray also features some of the UK's biggest regeneration schemes, such as Canning Town, Silvertown Quays and the Royal Docks. Prior to Newham, Dutton led Birmingham City Council's planning and regeneration department over four years and authored the Dutton Report, which examined the regeneration of West Belfast following the 2001 signing of the Good Friday Agreement.


Elspeth Atkinson, Director of Macmillan Cancer Support Scotland and Northern Ireland, BSc in town planning, Heriot-Watt University, 1977

In her role as Scotland and Northern Ireland director for Macmillan, Elspeth Atkinson has been the public face of the cancer support charity in these areas since 2005. Having started out as a planner, Atkinson's route into the role is unusual: most senior colleagues in the charity have medical or health policy backgrounds. But Atkinson is no stranger to senior public service roles, having been head of economic development at City of Edinburgh Council, where her responsibilities included the regeneration of Edinburgh Waterfront. Before that, she was head of rural operations at development agency Scottish Enterprise and held various roles at the now-defunct Scottish Development Agency. In her PhD from Heriot-Watt University, she looked at government policy's impact on economic development in the Highlands and Islands region.

Stewart Murray, Assistant director of planning, Greater London Authority, BA in town planning, London South Bank University (then South Bank Polytechnic), 1986

In his new position as the main planning adviser to London mayor Boris Johnson and his deputy Sir Edward Lister, Stewart Murray has a key role in shaping the built environment of the capital. According to some commentators, the Greater London Authority has recently begun to flex its muscles by calling in increasing numbers of planning applications. Murray will therefore have a central part to play in deciding which of these applications should appear before the mayor and how those developments should be determined. Prior to his latest appointment, Murray was chief planning and regeneration officer at the London Borough of Redbridge, where he was responsible for the local authority's pioneering adoption of the Community Infrastructure Levy on new development.


Peter Wynne Rees, City planning officer, Corporation of London, Postgraduate diploma in town planning, London South Bank University (then polytechnic), 1982

Peter Wynne Rees is the most senior planning figure in the Corporation of London, with responsibility for its planning and transportation department. In this role, he oversees the preparation and approval of planning policies affecting the City and negotiates with developers on major planning applications. One commentator says: "If anyone has a sizeable redevelopment scheme in the City, they go and see Peter. And if Peter says it's okay, it will be okay. If he doesn't like it, then it won't happen." Before Rees joined the corporation in 1985, he was assistant chief planning officer in the London Borough of Lambeth after stints in private practice and in the then Department of the Environment. He is also a qualified architect and a founder member of the British Council for Offices.


Steve Quartermain, Chief planner, Department for Communities and Local Government, Postgraduate diploma, environmental planning, Anglia Ruskin University (then the Chelmer Institute), 1984

As the government's chief planner since 2008, Steve Quartermain is the main planning policy conduit between local and central government. It is his responsibility to liaise with chief planning officers on implementation of the latest national planning policy directives. He comes from a local authority planning background, having worked in various planning departments before becoming head of planning and then director of planning and environmental services at Hambleton District Council. One observer who works with Quartermain says: "His practical background as a borough planning officer combines with a good dose of common sense to ensure that, as far as practical, the planning system is there to facilitate positive outcomes, rather than to operate as an end in itself."


William McKee, Chairman, Tilfen Land; chairman, Outer London Commission, Postgraduate diploma, town planning, University College London, 1968

William McKee has held a string of senior positions in the worlds of local government and property over a career spanning about 40 years. His two main current roles are chairman of both developer Tilfen Land and the Outer London Commission, the mayoral body set up in 2008 to advise on ways of harnessing the outlying boroughs' economic potential. Tilfen Land has various residential and commercial-led regeneration schemes in the Thames Gateway. McKee began his career in local authority planning before later becoming chief executive of the London Borough of Merton, a post he held for more than ten years. He then spent nine years as director general of the British Property Federation. McKee was also chairman of regeneration body the Thurrock Thames Gateway Development Corporation until it was disbanded earlier this year.

Bob Pell, Chief executive, program cost consultancy, AECOM, Diploma in town planning, Oxford Brookes University (then Oxford Polytechnic), 1975

As chief executive of international giant AECOM's program cost consultancy business, Bob Pell works on some of the world's largest construction and infrastructure projects, with his team counting the London Olympics and forthcoming Games in Rio in its portfolio. "Big", he says, has been a recurrent theme throughout his career, going as far back as his days as a trainee planner at Oxford Brookes.

"The course wasn't oriented towards design, more towards policy and strategy," he recalls. "At the time, structure planning was an area of the profession people went into. So Oxford Brookes got us to think of the big picture stuff. If it was about development, it was about big development."

It's perhaps no surprise then that Pell's first job as a planner was working for the Milton Keynes Development Corporation (MKDC), the body set up to oversee the planning and construction of the Buckinghamshire new town. In keeping with what he learned at Oxford Brookes, Pell was involved primarily in the economic rather than design side of planning the community. "When I describe myself to people, I say that I'm a planner, but that I think through a spreadsheet, not through a design pen," he says.

He carried this interest on into his next role as an economic development planner in consultancy Conran-Roche, set up by designer, restaurateur and retailer Sir Terence Conran and former MKDC chief executive Fred Roche. The company focused on the nascent urban regeneration sector, pioneering some of the UK's earliest mixed-use urban renewal schemes, such as Butler's Wharf next to Tower Bridge in London.

In the early 1990s, Pell and two of his colleagues from Conran-Roche left to help set up what was to become the European base for EDAW, an American planning consultancy looking to gain more of a foothold across the Atlantic. In 2005, EDAW merged into AECOM, and Pell has been there ever since. In 2010, he oversaw AECOM's merger with international construction consultancy Davis Langdon, which joined his team.

Over his career, Pell says the projects he has been involved in have got bigger and bigger, but the lessons he learned in his planning training are still relevant. "It was driven home to us at Oxford Brookes to think about development in a comprehensive manner and understand that planning needs to draw on a lot of different skills to work," he says. "That planning education gave me a solid grounding in what I've gone on to do."

Nahid Majid, Director, Design Council CABE, BA in planning, University of Westminster (then the Polytechnic of Central London), 1986

Nahid Majid started her career as a planning officer at the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, but rapidly moved into more regeneration-related work. She acted as town centre manager on the Bethnal Green City Challenge project in the mid-1990s before going on to commission architect David Adjaye to design the Stephen Lawrence Centre in Lewisham.

In the beginning of the noughties, Majid moved into national roles, becoming urban renaissance manager at the Prince's Foundation for the Built Environment and then director of area initiatives and communities at the Department for Work and Pensions.

Prior to taking on the directorship of Design Council CABE, Majid worked for Boris Johnson as director of programme development at the Mayor's Fund for London.

Rupert Nabarro, Chairman, Investment Property Databank, MPhil in town planning, University College London, 1974

Rupert Nabarro is a real estate economist who began his career working for planning consultancy Roger Tym & Partners, where he carried out economic and development studies on many large British cities. In 1985, he set up Investment Property Databank in an attempt to provide a reliable and authoritative commercial property index for the UK. Since then, the company has grown from three to 250 staff and also provides investment benchmarking and a research database. The business is now active in 23 countries.


Niall McNevin, Director of planning and sustainability, London Legacy Development Corporation, Diploma in town planning, Oxford Brookes University (then Oxford Polytechnic), 1987

The 2012 Olympics are over, but the job of transforming the Olympic Park into the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park started almost straight after the Games ended. As director of planning at the London Legacy Development Corporation, Niall McNevin will shoulder much of the responsibility for overseeing that task. McNevin has been at the corporation and its forerunner, the Olympic Park Legacy Company, since 2010. Before that, he was head of town planning and regeneration for the Olympic Delivery Authority. McNevin brought private sector experience to his Olympics roles, having been head of town planning at developer Lend Lease until 2003, and before this planning director of joint venture Whitecliff Properties.

Henry McLeish, Former First Minister of Scotland, Diploma in town and country planning, Heriot-Watt University, 1973

Henry McLeish became Scotland's First Minister in 2000 after Donald Dewar's sudden death. His time in this post was short-lived - he resigned in 2001 - but he has stayed active in public life, recently chairing a report on the state of Scottish football for the Scottish Football Association. After an early career as a professional footballer for East Fife Football Club, McLeish began working for Dunfermline District Council and then Fife County Council as a planning officer. He was later a part-time planning lecturer at his alma mater, Heriot-Watt University. McLeish is still involved in planning: in February this year, he became a patron of the Planning Aid for Scotland charity that helps local people and businesses to engage with the planning system. He also holds various consultancy roles and visiting professorships in the United States and Europe.


Waheed Nazir, Director of planning and regeneration, Birmingham City Council, Degree in urban planning, University of Westminster, 1997

As the head of planning in the largest local authority in Europe, Waheed Nazir has a key role to play in shaping the future regeneration and economic development of Birmingham. Since taking up his role in 2010, Nazir has overseen the publication of a masterplan for Birmingham city centre, setting out priorities for its development and regeneration over the next 20 years. He was also instrumental in negotiations over Birmingham's joint bid for local enterprise partnership (LEP) status, a process that led to the formation of the Greater Birmingham and Solihull LEP. Prior to his current role, Nazir was chief executive of the SRB6 North West Corridors of Regeneration programme, one of the country's largest projects under the Single Regeneration Budget initiative.

Glynis Whiting, President, British Chamber of Commerce in Brussels, Diploma in town planning, Birmingham City University (then City of Birmingham Polytechnic), 1978

As president of the British Chamber of Commerce in Brussels, Glynis Whiting is responsible for its work as a network for international businesspeople in Belgium. She initially acquired her credentials for this post as Kent County Council's first European planning manager, a role she took on after several years as a planner at the London Borough of Southwark. At Kent, Whiting oversaw transnational projects catalysed by the new Channel Tunnel link into France and Belgium. This position led to a secondment to the European Commission working as a national expert on urban policy and regeneration. After ventures including founding marketing body West Midlands in Europe, Whiting established the consultancy Whiting Eaton Associates.

David Lock, Chairman, David Lock Associates; chairman, DLA Architects Practice, Diploma in town and country planning, Nottingham Trent University (then Trent Polytechnic), 1970

Described by one observer as the "elder statesman" of the planning world, David Lock is both a consultant-practitioner and thinker on planning and sustainability. His practice, David Lock Associates, is involved in development and regeneration projects around the world. Current UK projects include planning the Kent Thameside regeneration scheme and producing an economic development plan for Norwich city centre. Lock has held numerous high-profile positions such as chairman of campaign group the Town and Country Planning Association from 2002 to 2008 and was a member of Lord Rogers' 1999 Urban Task Force. Between 1994 and 1997, Lock was also chief planning adviser to John Gummer, then environment secretary.

Chris Poulton, Head of international planning policy, Department for Communities and Local Government, Diploma in town planning, Newcastle University, 2003

In his role as head of international planning policy at the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG), one of Chris Poulton's main responsibilities is the UK's input into the European Union's territorial cohesion policy. Introduced in the 2009 Lisbon Treaty, territorial cohesion aims to make economic development across the EU regions more balanced. This has obvious implications for UK spatial planning, and part of Poulton's role is to negotiate with Brussels on how the UK will contribute towards this policy goal. Prior to his DCLG role, Poulton was head of strategic planning at the Government Office for London and before this, from 2003 to 2009, a senior strategic planner in the Greater London Authority's London Plan team.

Sarah Spencer, Senior fellow, Centre on Migration, Policy and Society (COMPAS), University of Oxford, MPhil in planning, University College London, 1977

After gaining a planning qualification, Sarah Spencer moved into law and is now a leading figure in the world of human rights and civil liberties. She was director of the pressure group that is now known as Liberty and has advised government departments on issues such as Gypsies, travellers and English language tuition for migrants. With her planning background, her current role at COMPAS mainly deals with projects related to urban change and settlement, examining how policy needs to respond to migration pressures. Between 2003 and 2005, Spencer was deputy chair of watchdog the Commission for Racial Equality. Until earlier this year, she chaired the Equality and Diversity Forum, a network of equality and human rights organisations.

Adrian Penfold, Head of planning, British Land, Diploma in town planning, Kingston University (then Kingston Polytechnic), 1977

The seeds of Adrian Penfold's eventual career were sown when a hitchhiker to whom the young Penfold gave a lift turned out to be a town planner. "He was a planner on one of the new towns," Penfold recalls. "We talked about his job and it sounded interesting. I thought maybe this was the career for me."

Now, more than 30 years on, Penfold has a successful career in local government planning behind him and is head of planning for developer British Land. He is also the author of the 2010 Penfold Review, commissioned by the government to examine whether development consents such as building regulations are slowing the planning process.

After completing a degree in politics and following his chance encounter with the wandering town planner, Penfold took a job as a planning technician at Bedford County Council. It was, he says, a lonely role, with much of his time spent walking the streets carrying out land-use surveys and identifying buildings being used for purposes other than those for which they had consent.

But, undeterred, Penfold signed up to a two-year diploma at Kingston University (then Kingston Polytechnic), where he says he was able to immerse himself in planning. "It was hard work - eight hours a day, lots of project work - but it was good exposure to a range of planning issues," he says.

Penfold's diploma led to a job as a "career-grade planner" at the London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham. This was effectively an apprenticeship, offering Penfold stints learning most of the main elements of planning, from research through to policy and development control. It was in this latter role that Penfold eventually settled, working as a development controller for seven years.

From being involved in relatively small-scale projects at Hammersmith & Fulham, Penfold then took a quantum leap to the London Docklands Development Corporation, where projects on his books included the likes of Canary Wharf. After this, he spent six years as chief planner at Dartford Council before taking on his present role at British Land.

Looking back to his early career, Penfold says his first degree means he has always had an interest in the political dimension of planning, something he developed in his planning training and that remains relevant with the advent of neighbourhood planning and its emphasis on empowering communities.

Penfold says that he has had a long-term interest in the political side of planning. "My thesis in my planning course was about how local groups influence what goes on in their area," he says. "I've always been interested in that relationship between development and local communities, and that's topical today with neighbourhood planning."

Have we missed anyone?

While we think our list of eminent planning graduates is fairly wide-ranging, we wouldn't claim that it is comprehensive. But we would like to make it more so, as we think it will help to promote the benefits of planning education. Are you aware of other people with planning qualifications who have risen to the top of the tree in other fields? Did you study planning alongside, or teach someone, who now holds a top post outside the mainstream planning sector? If so, please comment here.

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