Planning Consultancy 1997-2016: how the biggest players have changed

How the leading consultants have waxed and waned since our first survey appeared in 1997.

The planning consultancy sector has been through two turbulent decades since our first annual survey in 1997. Its 20th edition offers an opportunity to look back at the performance of the sector's leading lights and some of the notable names that have fallen by the wayside during that time.

The chart opposite tracks the number of chartered town planners employed on 1 September each year for almost 60 consultancies that, at some point since 1996, have logged more than 20 planners. The first survey asked participants to list numbers for the previous year, so where available these figures are included here. Only four of the datasets are comprehensive; some firms started or ceased trading during the survey period, while others did not submit figures in particular years.

The most notable feature is the growth in the scale of the leading consultancies. Grimleys, soon to be rebranded as GVA Grimley, led the 1997 chart with just 40 planners, growing to 100 in 2009 before stopping their survey responses. Since then, 24 other firms have topped the 40 mark in one or more years, of which seven have recorded three-figure numbers. Most leading practices grew year on year until the 2008 financial crash, but the picture has been less consistent since.

Some top ten planner employers have built and maintained high figures through organic growth. They include Barton Willmore, whose results here are revised from the published survey results for 2005 to 2013 to account for overcounting in these years. Turley and Nathaniel Lichfield & Partners have also hit three-figure numbers without taking over substantial mainstream planning practices.

Elsewhere, high planner numbers have been achieved through takeovers and mergers. In such cases, the chart groups predecessor trading names below the current owners. Some deals were relatively straightfoward, such as Amec's takeover of Entec in 2010, Jones Lang LaSalle's merger with King Sturge in 2011, engineering firm Jacobs' acquisition of Babtie Group in 2004 or CBRE's purchase of Hillier Parker back in 1998.

RPS Group's acquisition of Chapman Warren in 2000, Town Planning Consultancy in 2001 and Mason Richards Planning in 2004 laid the foundations for the firm's top ranking in the staffing tables every year from 2000 to 2009. RPS's numbers were boosted in 2014 with the purchase of CgMs.

Savills, whose current figure of 167 chartered planners is the highest ever recorded in the survey, embarked on the takeover trail in 1999 by acquiring Dorset-based Shaw Cramond. The firm's big push came in 2006, when the acquisition of Hepher Dixon took it into treble figures. Last year's takeover of real estate rivals Smiths Gore helped boost numbers to their present level.

Leeds-based engineering firm White Young Green (WYG) got a toehold in the planning market by acquiring Bristol firm MVM Planning in 2001. Since 2004, takeovers of Hawthorn Kamm Planning, Wyn Thomas Gordon Lewis, Alliance Planning and Signet Planning have boosted WYG's numbers. Another firm with engineering origins, Peter Brett Associates, established a planning foothold in 2011 when it merged with Roger Tym & Partners and Bristol firm Baker Associates.

Financial services giant Capita's presence in planning began with the acquisition of Symonds in 1998 but took off from 2005 with the launch of the Urban Vision joint venture, which now runs planning teams in local authorities nationwide. Last year's takeover of planning firm GL Hearn took Capita's planner numbers into treble figures.

Other agglomerations have even more tortuous roots. Aecom's planning capability was enhanced by the 2005 takeover of EDAW, though the latter brand was retained until 2009. It grew again in 2014 by taking over URS Corporation, which had acquired Scott Wilson four years earlier.

But perhaps the most tangled web is that of Cushman & Wakefield, which re-established its planning presence in 2014 by merging with DTZ. The firm traded as Cushman & Wakefield Healey &. Baker from 1998 to 2005 before scaling down its planning presence a decade ago. Meanwhile, DTZ found its planning niche in 1997 when it bought out independent consultancy Pieda and then retail specialist Donaldsons in 2007.

Click the table below to enlarge

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