Consulting team player

Tim Hancock has led Terence O'Rourke's growth by helping deliver ground-breaking schemes through a close-knit culture that emphasises interdisciplinary practice, Christina Papas finds.

Hancock: Promoting an interdisciplinary culture
Hancock: Promoting an interdisciplinary culture

Terence O'Rourke managing director Tim Hancock was only the fifth person to join the Dorset-based company when it launched two decades ago and has played a large part in steering it towards success.

Since taking over from founder Terry O'Rourke in 2003, Hancock has overseen the opening of two branch offices in Edinburgh and Bath. "They help serve clients in those regions better," he explains. "We have one client with a large portfolio of wind farm sites and we thought it was important to employ Scottish people for community consultation on the back of that."

This kind of attention to people and places is at the heart of the firm's ethos. The consultancy has a 90 per cent success rate in winning planning permission, even though some of its work entails projects that other consultancies would give a wide berth. "We do not take on easy projects," Hancock says. "When our clients come to us we work with them to make schemes more acceptable."

The team has a broad range of clients including house builders, public sector organisations, educational institutions and the renewable energy industry. Wind farms and transport projects are particular growth areas, Hancock adds. Terence O'Rourke recently won planning permission for a terminal at Bournemouth Airport and is working up expansion plans for Luton Airport.

Hancock admits that "big debates" sometimes erupt around the office over the kind of work the company should accept. Waste schemes are a case in point: "They are perceived as contentious. We only work with waste companies that are involved in recycling and promoting education initiatives and energy from waste."

One of the many controversial plans Hancock has steered through without having to go to inquiry is the Mercedes-Benz World project in the Surrey green belt. Under the plan, part of the abandoned Brooklands has been resuscitated to form a test circuit. The development features a gallery for the firm's products, cafes and restaurants and a 24ha community park. The scheme has delivered 250 jobs and attracted 350,000 visitors since it opened last autumn.

He also helped secure permission for the Rolls-Royce factory on the Goodwood estate near Chichester in an area of outstanding natural beauty. "We worked with the South East England Development Agency, West Sussex County Council and Chichester District Council to understand their concerns," he says. "We sank the building into the ground and it has a green roof. It is well screened from the surrounding area and has a very sympathetic design."

Hancock has been exposed to contentious matters throughout his career. In his first job as a planner at Avon County Council, he developed local policy by assuring people that the area around Bristol could accommodate major growth. This influenced a positive, can-do attitude "rather than worrying about what cannot happen", he says.

Later, as a principal planner at East Dorset District Council, he was asked to draw up plans for two settlements of 4,000 and 5,000 homes. Even though both proposals were dropped for political reasons, Hancock says being exposed to potentially major allocations on greenfield sites was of huge value at such an early stage in his career.

After joining Terence O'Rourke in 1988 he was assigned responsibility for bringing forward the Kings Hill business park in Kent for Liberty Properties. This was among the first mixed communities in the UK and one of the first to be subjected to an environmental impact assessment under the original 1988 regulations.

Hancock looks to work with councils to unlock opportunities where projects fall outside their plans. "We seek to inspire planners in local authorities. They are heavily under-resourced and under severe pressure to determine applications. They are reluctant to have meetings until applications are ready to go in, but we have such a good relationship that we can have those dialogues."

This ethos carries through to the workplace. Hancock is keen to preserve the firm's "one team culture". A tour around the firm's Bournemouth offices shows that he lives by this principle. "We have very low staff turnover because we have a strong culture and strong values. We see ourselves as a close-knit unit, almost a family," he maintains.

True to his word, planners, architects and environmental experts are integrated around the office. "People are not working on one particular project, so they can share ideas. This interdisciplinary working has given us tremendous strength and a high-calibre reputation," he argues.

Age: 49
Family: Married with three daughters
Education: Degree in geography, University of Leeds, 1979; MPhil in town
planning, University College London, 1981; diploma in management
studies, University of the West of England
Interests: Walking, cycling, music, reading
2003: Managing director, Terence O'Rourke
1992: Director, Terence O'Rourke
1988: Associate director, Terence O'Rourke
1986: Principal local plans officer, East Dorset District Council
1983: Senior planning officer, Northavon District Council
1981: Senior planning assistant, Avon County Council

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