Richards on skills

As the new year becomes less new, I find myself returning to an old debate.

That is the shortage of planners, planning skills and their contribution to shaping communities.

What has changed since the Egan review? There are more planners and new, young entrants to oversubscribed planning schools. But at the same time there remains a shortage of the generic skills that one would assume planners have in abundance. Good-quality community engagement, strategic thinking, partnership working, negotiation and communication skills that the profession prides itself on appear hard to find.

At significant numbers of authorities, planners are struggling to get the day job done. The sorts of activities that require these generic skills are seen as extra, making additional requests from the corporate centre a burden and getting partners to understand the work we do too difficult. What's more, planners don't always know what they don't know. Sometimes, not understanding a task leads to a misunderstanding of the skills that are needed. As the planning system has changed, the day job has expanded to include these extra tasks. Too close a focus on targets may mean that skills are underused, lost or forgotten.

Planners need to assess their own skills, identify the gaps and find ways to develop. Equally important is to recognise that sometimes we just need to have the confidence to use our skills. This is the only way that planners can ensure that they fulfil their key role in shaping places. If you would like to contribute to this debate, the Commons communities and local government select committee is carrying out an inquiry into planning skills at www.parliament.uk/clgcom

- Sarah Richards is head of the Planning Advisory Service.


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