DCLG chief planner to bring front-line experience to place-making policies

Enthusiasm and optimism from a career in local government will be targeted towards quality aspirations and ensuring that the profession has the skills and capacity to deliver them, Steve Quartermain pledges.

As I contemplate leaving local government after nearly 30 years' service, I think that I can be forgiven for offering what author Clive James called "unreliable memoirs".

I am sure that those permissions granted under delegated authority and seized on by members on their annual bus tour of the good, the bad and the ugly were never that bad, if they existed at all. But I do clearly remember the first-rate housing schemes, the award-winning employment buildings and delivery of affordable homes.

As I said to my chief executive while he prepared to airbrush me from the management team, my legacy is all around in the district. Like Trotsky in the famous photograph, I may be leaving the picture but my hat is firmly on the table.

I am not an apologist for being a planner. I have spent the past ten years with a much wider brief than planning. It has been about improving the quality of people's lives with the provision of front-line services.

For me, this means harnessing the skills and abilities of a range of people who plan - those who make a positive contribution to the community with whom they work. If I ever found myself cornered in the kitchen at parties or cross-examined over the second course at dinner, I was always happy to bang the drum for planners.

Such enthusiasm and optimism can lead you into interesting areas. Having served as president of the Planning Officers Society, I am about to take up the role of chief planner at the DCLG. I am again enthusiastic about this and excited about the job.

It has to be said, however, that among the many well-wishers expressing expectations of great things from me, there have been a number of doom-mongers happy to highlight the perils of working as a planner in the DCLG.

I only became a planner because of the civil service. As a part-time job after university I was working for Her Majesty's Tax Inspectorate and wrote on my job application "in grave danger of becoming a tax inspector", which was enough to get me an interview.

I can say that the DCLG is responsible for trying to make planning work and my dealings with it to date suggest that it is "in the tent", not outside it. My own objectives are to help deliver the government's aspirations for the planning system as well as help the private and public planning professions grow and build up the confidence and abilities to create the sorts of places in which we all want to live.

I intend to keep you updated on my progress but my immediate priorities, alongside the day job, are to continue to support the local development framework (LDF) process and look at the skills and capacities of the people involved to deliver against this expectation.

The first revisions to PPS12 and the associated regulations came in response to views that the original proposals were over-engineered. These changes are welcome and should help, but the fundamental approach to planning as a more inclusive activity has not changed.

At Hambleton District Council in North Yorkshire, we have managed to secure sound status for two LDF documents and are about to submit the third and final one. This process has been achieved under the old system and a challenge for me is to understand why such progress is not more widespread.

I want to see what can be done to help more authorities meet the expectation of putting place-shaping at the heart of their activities. This leads me to the skills and capacity agenda. In some respects, I have always felt that planners have the requisite skills but need confidence and opportunity to use them.

This is why I look to the corporate priorities and resourcing when reviewing progress. A number of different people are involved in this debate and it is right that this is a priority in my new role. New ways of working are always a challenge but I have always thought that planners are good at that.

Steve Quartermain is currently director of planning and environmental services at Hambleton District Council and will shortly take up the position of chief planner at the DCLG. He will be speaking at the RTPI's Planning Convention, to be held from 9 to 11 July in London.

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Sign up now
Already registered?
Sign in

Join the conversation with PlanningResource on social media

Follow Us:
Planning Jobs

Our Events