Sustainable enthusiast

Savills director Richard Shaw still revels in planning challenges.

Richard Shaw
Richard Shaw

You might think that Richard Shaw would steer clear of development control officers when he takes a break from his post as a planning director at one of the UK's largest consultancies in the field. Instead, he has elected to sample Gallic planning policy through a pet project to bring low-carbon technology to the Alps.

Shaw and his family have spent the past three years rebuilding an 18th century timber chalet at Morzine, near the Swiss border. "It can be a struggle at times," he admits. "The local authority insists that there must be no changes to the external appearance of these buildings."

When he is not going green in the Alps, Shaw oversees planning operations at giant property consultancy Savills. He joined the firm as head of planning in 1999 after the group bought out his practice Shaw Cramond. Then, the planning team comprised 14 people. By last autumn, Savills was the fourth largest consultancy employer of chartered town planners in the UK.

One prime factor in its growth was a merger with Hepher Dixon 15 months ago (Planning, 8 December 2006, p1). Since then, Shaw has been involved in the establishment of planning teams in Glasgow and Exeter. "The deal with Hepher Dixon gave us a major planning presence in London. The range of projects they were dealing with was quite broad," he says.

Savills now has 176 planners, urban designers and environmental consultants. Shaw stood down as national head of planning in a restructuring announced last week in favour of former Hepher Dixon senior director Roger Hepher. He is now a member of Savills' planning board and retains responsibility for planning operations in its southern region.

Savills' planning and regeneration consultancy portfolio covers housing, commercial schemes, mixed-use projects, energy, environmental impact assessment and urban and graphic design. Shaw brings to bear more than 30 years of practical experience, starting out in local government before moving on to directors' posts in three consultancy organisations.

"Planning decisions transform property values," he says. "They influence the environment in which we live, work, travel, shop and spend our leisure time. They are often controversial, at the forefront of media attention and the wider political agenda. Topics such as housing delivery, sustainable development, climate change, design quality and energy efficiency are not just at the top of the UK agenda. They are all matters of global significance."

He is well aware of the skills crisis in the planning sector and has helped to introduce a graduate recruitment and training programme across his division. "This year we will be taking on 15 graduates and have begun interviews already," he explains.

"Once recruited, their training will include spells in other commercial parts of the business to gain a practical understanding of property and development. We have also recruited a number of geography graduates and have funded their postgraduate diplomas at planning schools."

Shaw sees 2008 as a year for consolidation in the planning market, but predicts one growth area. "We are expecting a lot more work with registered social landlords, who are now major developers in their own right. We're looking at initiatives with several consortia," he reveals.

He also sees energy and sustainability as key business drivers. "The environmental agenda is a huge challenge for all in planning," he maintains. "I have never known quite such an interesting and challenging time to be a practising planner."

The Savills planning team recently obtained planning approval for a bioethanol plant in Humberside, submitted a application for a food waste recycling facility in Northamptonshire and is promoting several wind farms in Scotland. London projects include consent for the conversion of the Royal Military Academy in Woolwich, advice on the Olympia and Earl's Court complex and a range of Thames Gateway schemes.

The Hepher Dixon merger has brought more involvement in sports developments, including the 2012 London Olympic facilities. Shaw's staff are involved in the regeneration of the area around Arsenal Football Club's Emirates Stadium in Islington and the redevelopment of the team's former Highbury site. They are also promoting regeneration around Millwall Football Club's ground in south-east London and an application for Everton's new stadium in Kirkby.

When he's had enough of UK planning, Shaw heads back for battle with the French system. He is using his environmental experience to bring his idyllic mountain setting into the 21st century. "We are maximising the use of wood fuel from logs from an adjoining forest combined with electricity from the local hydroelectric plant. And we must have one of the best-insulated roofs in the Alps," he reckons.

Age: 53
Family: Partner, two children and two stepchildren
Education: BA (Hons) in town and country planning, University of
Manchester 1976; diploma in design in the built environment,
Gloucestershire College of Art and Technology, 1984
Interests: Travel, walking, skiing, photography, gardening and
2008: Director, Savills
1999: Head of planning, Savills
1995: Director, Shaw Cramond
1986: Director, Terence O'Rourke
1984: Assistant chief planning officer, East Dorset District Council
1983: Principal planning officer, East Dorset District Council
1981: Senior planner, Erewash Borough Council
1979: Senior planner, High Peak Borough Council
1976: Planning assistant, High Peak Borough Council

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