RTPI Comment - Putting a value on planning

ODPM support for planning appears to be well established. Funds for planning aid, the planning delivery grant and postgraduate bursaries all bear witness to this. Members of the cabinet also value planning and many of them have spoken positively about it.

Anyone considering a public sector planning career may therefore think that it will not only provide them with a worthwhile and stimulating occupation, but may also have suitable financial rewards. They could have seen the recent advertisement for chief planner at the ODPM. While few may reach such heights as one of the top jobs in the profession, it should give some insight into how high the salary ceiling reaches.

Cowan's cartoon (Planning, 28 October, p11) focused on the fact that the salary on offer, £87,500, is related to the prospect of not attracting an exceptional candidate. It suggests that more money might be made available for such a person. However, inquiries reveal exactly how much more is likely to be limited.

The final say on civil service salaries rests with the cabinet office.

Are these the same people who write the ministerial pro-planning speeches?

Surely the post demands an exceptional planner who can be tempted away from a lower profile, better rewarded position.

The skills and experience of good public sector planners at the top of their profession are being lost to mainstream planning. They are being attracted to a range of chief executive positions in the public sector.

Only time will tell if one of them will be tempted by the prestige of this position. The inevitable conclusion must be that whatever the current esteem of planning, the financial value placed on planners still falls short of other public sector employees.

The RTPI is putting the finishing touches to the planners in the workplace initiative. For too long local authorities have reviewed salary levels and only measured the measurable. Often the size of departmental budgets becomes the substitute for a more subjective evaluation of planners' contributions.

The truth is that the income from application fees is the tip of a very big iceberg. It discloses that planning is responsible for both small and large development investments. The cumulative effects are far reaching.

The future economic prospects of villages, towns and cities are dependent on good planning. How can we bring such influence to the job evaluation balance sheet?

The institute will provide a means to share experience and good practice on all aspects of planning. It will include ways in which to value planning and planners. Over time, it should improve remuneration prospects to help ensure that the best people are attracted and retained in planning.

Some years ago, Chris Shepley led a survey into football ground renewal plans. The process is still continuing. The latest celebrations are in Brighton, but inevitably not all parties are happy. As I listened to interviews that outlined the long campaign, I was hoping that someone might recognise and value the contribution played by planners on all sides of the proposal - the local authority, the developers, the government office and the inspectorate.

Let us recognise that the planning system provides a means to evaluate such major projects and to resolve very sensitive issues, and it is the conduct and integrity of the planners in these events that reinforces the value of planning.

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