London skyline Svengali

Self-effacing founder of planning consultancy DP9 Malcolm Kerr believes planning has become more attractive as a career but says it is still hard to find good professionals, reveals Vicki Shiel.

Kerr: no interest in self-promotion
Kerr: no interest in self-promotion

Malcolm Kerr has no interest in self-promotion and likes to keep a low profile. So he is a little embarrassed at being voted one of London's top 50 most influential people in this year's Evening Standard poll, which called him the "Svengali of the London skyline". But the joint founder and senior partner at planning consultancy DP9 has no qualms about discussing the success of his firm, which was set up in 2004.

DP9 provides purely planning services and concentrates on developments in the capital, particularly in inner London boroughs such as Camden, Islington, Newham, Southwark and Tower Hamlets. "Although our strengths lie within the M25, we do get involved with some very large projects outside of the orbital," he explains.

Kerr and his team have worked on some of the most high-profile projects in London, including nearly all of the latest landmarks. Past achievements include the Gherkin, Canary Wharf, the London Eye, Broadgate Tower, the "walkie-talkie" building in Fenchurch Street and 122 Leadenhall Street, or the "cheese grater".

He is currently working on plans for Battersea Power Station, Chelsea Barracks, the Commonwealth Institute in Kensington, Beetham Tower on the South Bank, Euston and Victoria stations and a residential development in Hyde Park that is expected to be the most expensive residential property in London. He also secured consent for the Pinnacle building, which will be the tallest in London when it is built next year in Bishopsgate, and more recently the Middlesex Hospital site.

Kerr moved to London and began his career at Montagu Evans in 1983, not as a planner but as a surveyor specialising in planning. Before that, he worked as a lawyer for a year after completing a law degree at the University of Strathclyde. "So technically I am a lawyer and a surveyor, not a planner," he reflects.

"I think it is important to employ people from different professional backgrounds. We recruit surveyors who are qualified RTPI members and planners who need to develop more surveying skills. You have to understand commercial values to be a planner now," he adds.

Kerr stayed at Montagu Evans for 21 years and eventually headed up the planning department before setting up DP9. He founded the company along with eight other partners, leading them to christen it DP9, which stands for the "development planning nine".

They started with 20 staff, all of whom had previously worked at Montagu Evans. "We did this to have, in my view, the most senior and best people in the business," he explains. DP9 now has just fewer than 60 employees, including 14 partners and seven associates.

Kerr is therefore well placed to comment on the transformation of the planning profession in the UK over the past decade and its ability to attract young people. "In the past ten years, planning has become more integral to the development process. As a consequence, planning as a profession has become sexier and more people are coming into it," he says.

"Planning was perhaps not seen as being an exciting profession before, but it has become more visible and more important on the back of a number of very high-profile projects in the UK," he suggests.

Despite this, he echoes the concerns of many planning consultants in the UK in highlighting the shortage of good planning professionals available for recruitment. "We are expanding and always looking for the right people at any level," he says.

Kerr wants to see more resources for council planning departments brought forward in the planning reform bill. "They largely do a good job, but they are stretched and need more resources to deal with growing workloads. Increasing their resources would help to meet the government's development targets," he argues.

He is also in favour of the proposed infrastructure planning commission that aims to speed up the planning process for major infrastructure schemes. "Major projects such as the Channel Tunnel and extensions to Heathrow and Stansted Airports take so long to go through. There must be a better way," he insists.

What does he think of the figure who pipped him to the post to be crowned the most influential person in London? "I think that Ken Livingstone has had a positive effect on development. To have a regional authority with which you can consult directly when dealing with major projects has been very positive."

CV

Age: 48

Family: Married with one boy and two girls

Education: Jordanhill College School, Glasgow; law degree, University of Strathclyde

Interests: Architecture, cycling and sport, particularly football and rugby

2004: Founder and senior partner, DP9

1983: Surveyor, Montagu Evans.


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