Careers: Careers in councils

Local government is the first step for many new entrants to planning.

Working for a district, borough or county council offers a diverse workload and plenty of opportunities for promotion.

The sector has been revitalised by reforms that have speeded up decision-making and injected new resources, confidence and dynamism into town and county halls. The current emphasis on consulting the public on decisions that affect their lives has given planning departments a higher profile within local authorities and in the public eye.

The government sees planners as having a lead role in shaping places, and that means working closely with councillors, developers, the public and other professionals. "We all have an impact on the natural and built environment and the quality of people's lives," says Paul Watson, director of development and regeneration at Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council.

Many planners are involved in drawing up plans and policies covering either the whole council area or smaller patches of territory where rapid growth or gradual decline need to be tackled. Duties include research on local needs, drawing up options and negotiating to secure agreement on a preferred course of action.

Development control is the other mainstay of local government planning. All planning applications, whether they involve house extensions or major commercial developments, have to be assessed against national and local policies and their effect on neighbourhoods. Design, flood risk, transport impact, noise and air quality are some of the issues that have to be taken on board.

Enforcement is the sharp end of development control where staff ensure that schemes are built to approved plans and policies. The job needs tact, diplomacy and the ability to talk through solutions, leaving legal action if all else fails.

Outside these main areas, there are plenty of specialist niches. Some planners put together plans and packages to renew rundown parts of towns and cities. Conservation officers make sure that historic buildings are protected.

Within five years you could be leading a team of junior planners and technical staff fielding development proposals across part of a district or dealing with a particular aspect of planning policy. A number of planners have risen to the heights of chief executive, overseeing every aspect of the operation of their authority.



Development control team leader, Tunbridge Wells Borough Council

MA in Town Planning, University of Westminster

- What attracted you to planning?

The idea of helping to protect the countryside and our built heritage.

- What are your main duties?

Day-to-day management of three teams dealing with all applications in the borough.

- What do you enjoy about your job?

Seeing developments built and knowing that I have made a difference to them.

- What has been your career highlight?

Dealing with plans for the Brands Hatch racing circuit and the new Tunbridge Wells Hospital.

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