Optimism thrives in sectors

Planning consultants are taking an upbeat view of growth prospects despite the crisis in recruitment, Bryan Johnston reports.

Another bumper harvest is in prospect for planning consultancies this year as reforms to the system take root, with chronic difficulties in recruiting staff of the right calibre the main obstacle to further expansion.

Across the board, consultants expect the market for planning services to grow by another 17 per cent in the current financial year, matching their estimate of actual growth in 2004-05. The government's sustainable growth plans, the switch to an updated development plans system along with its associated appraisal requirements and the ongoing drive for urban regeneration are among the key factors behind this growth.

The 150 firms responding to Planning's ninth annual survey provide a livelihood for 1,882 RTPI chartered members, of whom 29 per cent are women, and 329 student members. Associated professionals bring their total fee-earning capacity to around 4,250. The results highlight the rapid growth of the leading firms since the first survey in 1997. This year the top ten firms employed 717 full RTPI members. The equivalent figure for 1997 was 308.

The survey shows individual firms taking a bullish view of their own immediate prospects. One-third of the 102 respondents prepared to reveal their growth predictions are expecting a rise in fee income of more than 15 per cent in 2005-06 and another 40 are looking at between ten and 15 per cent.

Within individual market segments, the survey reveals that the 26 per cent growth in housing work predicted last year was almost met.

Consultants traditionally take a cautious view of market prospects, yet the consensus is that the residential sector will grow by another 22 per cent in the current year.

Business experts are again anticipating an 18 per cent rise in industrial and commercial planning work, although that figure was exceeded last year.

The immediate prospects for the retail and leisure sectors are also looking promising, with income levels expected to increase this year in both areas.

The substantial growth in infrastructure planning predicted two or three years ago has never quite been realised, with the energy field in particular falling well below market expectations in 2004-05. Firms with a heavy involvement in transport and energy are looking towards only moderate growth in these areas over the ensuing 12 months.

- Survey responses were analysed by Camargue (Cheltenham) Ltd.

For a full breakdown of the survey responses, see this week's Planning (11 November 2005).

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