The Guide to Careers in Planning 2008-09 - Fresh look at leisure

Leisure and tourist activities are a vital part of the economy. Planning plays a key role in bringing the necessary facilities to an area and making sure that they work for communities and visitors.

But the scope for involvement in these sectors goes beyond traditional leisure locations such as national parks and historic towns. The leisure sector is growing. Amenities such as cinemas, bowling alleys, sports centres, restaurants and bars often form part of major regeneration projects.

Tony Woodcock was chief planner at a council in Northumberland before becoming a consultant specialising in leisure. Woodcock studies local planning policies to see where developments would be acceptable and works with other specialists such as architects, landscape designers, traffic engineers and even archaeologists if a site might reveal hidden relics.

"One client has three caravan parks and I'm about to consult on a project for a swimming pool, a cafe, tennis courts and a crazy golf course," says Woodcock. "Another is spending £10 million to expand a golf course and add a hotel. We also work with farmers who want to diversify from agriculture into caravan sites and holiday homes."

Leisure has always been on the planner's radar. "But now many local plans are very positive towards tourism, especially in areas that do not have much of a tourist economy and want to develop it because successful leisure projects can galvanise a local economy," says Woodcock.

Pegasus Planning Group's Andy Meader is another leisure specialist who deals with projects such as cinemas and bowling complexes, either as free-standing developments or as part of large-scale mixed-use proposals. "I take sites right through the process, from initial appraisal of whether they are suitable to planning applications and then sometimes to appeal," says Meader.

Blackpool is one of the country's leading resorts but it has declined since its heyday, as more people take holidays overseas. ReBlackpool, the local urban regeneration company, is working to revamp the town's seafront. The main project is the People's Playground, a transformation of the sea-front promenade.

Along with new sea defences, the project will create open-air venues built on the town's traditions of comedy, music, circus and vaudeville. "We're looking for ways to mix people of different ages," explains ReBlackpool development director Reg Haslam, previously the town's chief planner. "Our planners work with developers on buying land and buildings and all matters needed to take a project from conception to fruition," he says.

PROFILE - STEPHEN SSEJJEMBA, senior planning officer, Birmingham City Council

Stephen Ssejjemba's desire to make the world a better place led him to a planning placement at Brighton and Hove City Council. He trained under the Tomorrow's Planners initiative, which aims to address under-representation of black and minority ethnic groups in the planning profession. After completing an MA in planning policy and practice at London South Bank University, he is now helping to take forward regeneration schemes across south Birmingham. He is also involved in the city's young people's focus group. "The group has been valuable in helping to ensure young people's voices are heard," he says.

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