CONSULTANTS SURVEY: A year of great expectations

Once again the market for planning services is exceeding consultants' predictions, with good prospects for growth, writes Bryan Johnston.

Biblical precedent suggests that the seven years of continuous growth charted in our series of annual surveys of the planning market since 1997 should soon give way to a similar period of lean times.

Yet despite continued uncertainties in the national and world economy, there is so far no evidence that the long-running boom period for planning organisations has run its course. Last year's prediction of market growth of around eight per cent across the board has been outstripped, with most companies anticipating that last year's actual increase of more than ten per cent will be matched in the current financial year.

When it comes to their own prospects for increased income, most companies are even more bullish. The typical planning firm expects a hike of almost 17 per cent in fee income in 2003-04. Half-a-dozen consultancies are predicting rises of 30 per cent upwards, including some that are relatively new to the planning market.

The residential sector is regarded as the most promising area, with a predicted 16 per cent increase this year almost matching actual growth of nearly 19 per cent in 2002-03. Transport, energy, water and drainage infrastructure are also expected to perform well, with fees expected to rise by around 15 per cent in line with last year's actual results.

The main commercial sectors, including retail and leisure, did markedly better than predicted this time last year. Consultants are particularly optimistic about leisure instructions, where an expected 13.5 per cent rise compares with the five per cent prediction in last year's survey.

Minerals and waste planning also produced far higher increases in revenue than anticipated 12 months ago, and the graph is expected to keep climbing in these sectors. But telecommunications remains a difficult area to call.

Doubts over the roll-out of third-generation mobile systems is one factor behind a predicted absolute decline in fees from this source in the coming year.

With job sheets growing in both numbers and complexity, most consultancies are still expanding their teams through organic growth. The dark cloud on the horizon remains the shortage of skilled staff in planning and related sectors. Consultants have identified this as a significant obstacle to growing their businesses for the past two years, and if anything, the situation is getting worse.

- Survey results analysed by Camargue (Cheltenham) Ltd.

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FASTEST GROWERS 1999-2003

Consultancies ranked by increase in chartered town planners between 1

September 1999 and 1 September 2003.

R

Rank Rank Name of consultancy Planners Increase

2002 2003 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 1999-2003

1 1 RPS Group PLC 9 69 100 105 111 102

2 2 Barton Willmore 40 52 56 68 73 33

3 4 Drivers Jonas 19 28 29 45 46 27

4 5 Turley Associates 44 53 67 68 70 26

5 6 DTZ Pieda Consulting 35 35 35 52 56 19

6 8 FPD Savills Ltd 16 17 21 30 32 16

7= 13= Entec UK Ltd 11 - 18 21 26 15

7= 17= CgMs Ltd 10 12 15 16 25 15

9 21= Arup 20 26 20 25 34 14

10= 7 Nathaniel Lichfield

& Partners 38 36 35 46 51 13

10= 10 Roger Tym & Partners 13 14 19 23 26 13

12= GL Hearn 24 25 25 28 35 11

12= 11 Hepher Dixon 11 11 12 20 22 11

14 13= Broadway Malyan

Planning 8 11 14 15 18 10

15 17= Scott Wilson 21 23 24 27 29 8

16= 17= David Lock

Associates Ltd 15 16 21 21 22 7

16= King Sturge 10 10 12 13 17 7

18= 13= Halcrow Group 20 20 25 27 26 6

18= Spawforth Planning Ltd 5 7 8 9 11 6

18= 21= Terence O'Rourke 18 - 22 23 24 6

21= 21= Carpenter Planning

Consultants Ltd 9 8 9 14 14 5

21= CSJ Planning

Consultancy Ltd 4 5 6 7 9 5

21= 13= Development Planning

Partnership 30 33 33 37 35 5

21= Donaldsons 3 7 9 7 8 5

21= White Young Green

Planning 19 14 20 21 24 5

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