Careers: Spotlight on towns

Town and city centres offer planners a chance to work with some of the most challenging but rewarding environments.

Central areas are the heart of the community, which means a lot of people will want to have a say in any changes that a council or a developer wants to make.

Many town centres have a long history, so listed buildings and even archaeological remains have to be properly protected and preserved. Potential development sites tend to have several owners. Piecing sites together and making schemes happen takes time, patience and determination.

Town centres are not just about shops. They also contain workplaces, public services such as banks and health centres, entertainment venues and an increasing number of homes. "Towns and city centres are complicated. It's part of what makes them interesting," says Tim Johnson, a director of property consultancy DTZ.

Twenty years ago, many town centres were under pressure from a wave of giant out-of-town retail and leisure schemes. Now government policy insists that most development should be directed to central areas. Resolving conflicts and competition between different land uses and sites is a crucial role for planners.

Planners working in town and city centres will undertake a variety of tasks. Local development frameworks and development briefs, which set out detailed plans for individual sites, are also important. At the outset, planners work out the potential for development by assessing the kind of floor space that the area needs.

The mix of assignments and the complex nature of town and city centres demand a diverse skills set. A good understanding of development finance and demand is essential. But so too are the softer arts of design and public consultation, given the sensitivity of the sites in question.

Town centre planning can be frustrating but it is also exciting, says GVA Grimley planning partner Chris Goddard. "You need to know what you want to get out of a site and the market you are building it for," he says.

Schemes are becoming a lot more complex. "We are not building single-purpose retail boxes any more. Everything we are dealing with has several hundred homes and a hotel in it. We are building chunks of town centres as opposed to shopping centres," says Goddard. "These schemes are very high profile. You can transform a centre."

PROFILE

CHRIS HAYS

Associate, White Young Green Planning

BSc in Planning, UCE; MSc in Urban Design, Oxford Brookes University

- What attracted you to planning?

I worked for a builder in my gap year.

- What are your main duties?

I get involved in all stages of developing town centre schemes, from assessing the need for floor space to taking applications through development control.

- What do you enjoy about your job?

Dealing with a lot of different people.

- What has been your career highlight?

Getting through my first inquiry. I gave expert evidence on conservation area issues.


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