Consultancy Survey - A market in turmoil

The pace is slackening after years of breakneck growth in the UK's planning consultancy teams. Some are still building up staff numbers, but the cut-throat battle for recruits is starting to ease.

The number of chartered planners employed by firms responding to this year's survey rose by about 200 to 2,471, although that is based on 19 more responses - a record haul of 155. Student or licentiate members grew by around 50 to 570. The RTPI numbers are outstripped by 3,246 other fee earners from allied professions.

Women planners are making further inroads. Almost one-third of chartered planners in firms covered by the survey are female, rising to 51 per cent among RTPI students and licentiates. But women still account for only 15 per cent of directors and 26 per cent of associates.

While all but four of the top 20 leading employers expanded their complement of chartered planners in the year ending in September, the wider picture is patchier. Among the 84 largest firms for which figures from last year are also available, 43 showed an increase in chartered planners over the ensuing 12 months but 29 recorded a fall.

Job cuts in the development and house building industries have left a fair number of well-qualified planners seeking work. Unhappily, few consultancies are looking to expand their workforces and at most places only key staff are being replaced. More worryingly, some firms are looking at redundancies.

Barton Willmore, which was within touching distance of market leader RPS in September, has since lost four planning posts, two through redundancy. "After a record year for most firms, including ours, planning consultancy is facing a sharp reversal as reduced property prices, restricted lending and damaged bank savings restrict clients' ability to fund major applications," says senior partner Ian Tant.

"Planning reforms have made outline applications significantly more expensive," he notes. "Despite this, consultants need to retain their capabilities for when the upturn arrives. We have worked to develop the breadth of client base and skills that are the keys to success and we remain ready and able to help whenever demand arises."

Turley Associates chief executive Rob Lucas fears the market may shrink this year thanks to paralysis in the housing market, major schemes being put on hold and the downturn's impact on public sector regeneration. "We are seeing growth in energy, education, health and supermarkets, but we expect our overall performance to be flat for the next 12 to 18 months," he says.

Nathaniel Lichfield and Partners (NLP) has seen growth throughout this year, but managing director James Fennell agrees it will level out next year. "We plan to maintain trading levels and prepare for an upturn, possibly in late 2009 or more probably early 2010," he forecasts.

Stephen Brown, head of planning, development and regeneration at GVA Grimley, thinks that the private and public sector markets will contract in the second half of 2008-09. "Firms with the highest-value specialist skills will do better than the generalists who are more vulnerable to the sharp downturn among house builders and smaller mixed-use developers," he adds.

Roger Hepher, head of planning and regeneration at Savills, aims to maintain business in 2009 at the same level as 2008. "Growth is only likely to occur through acquisition, which will increase turnover but will not expand the market. We are continuing to expand the team. But a shortage of high-calibre people remains a problem," he says.

CB Richard Ellis head of planning Stuart Robinson notes: "The devastating downturn in the economy and property market will have an effect on the consultancy market as developments slow down or are put on hold. Section 106 agreements negotiated just months ago can no longer be sustained and will need to be revisited."

The downturn has undoubtedly affected prospects for planning consultants over the next 12 months, says Atkins director Paul White. "Some sectors will see a substantial reduction in demand for planning services while others will see fewer opportunities," he adds. "The overall marketplace will be much more competitive, which will drive down fees and squeeze profit margins."

But Chris Simkins, operational director at RPS's Swindon office, thinks that the market has stabilised and sees scope for modest growth. "House builders and other developers appear to be gearing up to promote large urban extensions through appeals because forward planning is not delivering and more authorities are failing the five-year housing land supply test," he explains.

Andrew Martin, principal at Andrew Martin Associates, also talks up prospects: "Substantial work is needed in promoting housing and employment schemes through regional and local planning. While many house builders have sold off sites to reduce exposure, firms that specialise in strategic projects and land assembly are still promoting land through the planning system."

At David Lock Associates, managing director Lawrence Revill points out that planning does not stop despite the slowdown. "The system is reaching a critical phase with huge numbers of development plan documents in preparation and no-one can afford to take their feet off the gas. Overall growth is still possible."

Bidwells partner Andrew Blackwell notes that clients want consultants to be careful with budgets. "Work has to keep going or they miss stages of the local development plan process. We cannot be complacent, but because we are strongly linked to strategic work we are fairly confident that we can meet the challenge," he insists.

Cristina Howick, a partner at Roger Tym & Partners, remarks: "Like a tanker, our long-term projects have huge momentum. They take a long time to stop and even longer to restart, so they keep going thorough the recession. Planning permission is still an asset that will appreciate."

After two years of significant expansion, CgMs Ltd is moving into a period of consolidation but will still consider expansion if a business case can be made. Partner John Stockdale says: "We are managing to grow and maintain our target profit margin, but whether this will persist depends on the severity and duration of any downturn."

With the credit crunch making its impact felt across the industry and projects on hold, EDAW Ltd principal Sandra Roebuck sees an opportunity for reflection. "In some cases this can only be positive, especially where fast-paced development only a year ago was producing solutions driven by short-term market ambition at the expense of robust place-making," she argues.

Niall Roberts, joint managing director at Tribal MJP, argues that the downturn has reinforced the resilience of consultancies with a broad client and sector base. "Our strengths in the health, education, regeneration and energy sectors are important to balance the difficulties in commercial and residential markets," he says. Tribal's acquisition of Llewelyn Davies Yeang's planning and urban design practice earlier in the year provides a platform for growth, he believes.

"We need to demonstrate that we are giving clients value for money," says DPP senior partner Richard Flack. "We are at the bottom of the cycle and we have to be positioned to respond to opportunities. We are looking ahead to the upturn, although it may be 12 or 18 months away. Clients still recognise that they are affected by local development frameworks, which are affected by economic circumstances, so they have to react."

Steve Fidgett, managing director at Alliance Planning, accepts that in the short term there will be more competition for fewer projects. "However, if you have a strong reputation and can deliver results, life goes on. The underlying needs of society and the economy are clearly subdued by the lack of credit and still need to be met sooner or later," he maintains.

"Things could be worse. Some of the people we have been working for are no longer in jobs," says Taylor Young Ltd managing director Stephen Gleave. "Who is going to be commissioning and sorting out fee agreements when things improve? People are saying it is time for plan-making. If it is backed by the public purse that is fine, but it depends on development partners getting involved and they are not flush at the moment."

Those firms that are still recruiting are finding a wider choice of candidates than in recent years. "RPS is picking up some good planners from the development industry," says Simkins. "We expect an overall increase during the next 12 months through organic growth. However, job mobility between consultancies has slowed a bit as people perceive increased risks in moving."

Finding staff of the right calibre remains a problem, however. "We have taken on people in senior positions from companies that have shed jobs, but some have to be reorientated from a residential to a commercial mindset," says Roberts. "There are plenty of CVs circulating, but many belong to people we would find difficult to accommodate in a commercial consultancy environment," Hepher agrees.

DPP has continued its graduate programme, taking on 15 students in the past year. "They are the seedcorn of the business. The numbers available in the market will increase, the issue is whether they are the right people," says Flack. NLP has also taken on its usual complement of graduates this year. "The underlying shortage of planning skills remains but we do not expect this to be a constraint on our activities over the next 12 months," concludes Fennell.

LEADING EMPLOYERS OF CHARTERED TOWN PLANNERS

(A) Chartered planners 2008 (1)
(B) Chartered planners 2007(2)
(C) Directors or partners (3)
(D) Associates or equivalent (4)
(E) Women planners (5)
(F) Non-corporate RTPI members (6)
(G) Planning fee-earners (7)
(H) Total staff in planning (8)
(I) Planning fee income 2007-08 (9) (pounds)

Rank Consultancy (A) (B) (C) (D) (E) (F) (G) (H) (I)
08 07
1 1 RPS Group plc 141 136 36 47 41 9 626 733 73,240,000
2 2 Barton Willmore 138 128 36 35 32 26 230 304 23,500,000
3 3 Turley Associates 127 112 41 36 43 18 171 217 19,377,000
4 4 Savills 115 110 28 54 27 18 191 228 16,400,000
5 5 GVA Grimley 98 94 24 25 34 36 168 195 22,400,000
6 6 Nathaniel
Lichfield and
Partners 94 90 17 38 43 36 140 178 16,500,000
7 7 Drivers Jonas 85 76 15 24 43 20 105 112 18,600,000
8 8 DPP 83 73 20 17 37 38 124 163 12,500,000
9 9 White Young
Green 67 70 36 20 19 26 139 164 14,300,000
=10 12 Pegasus Planning
Group 65 49 12 14 19 125 125 12,800,000
=10 10 Scott Wilson 65 62 13 22 24 24 430 440 17,600,000
12 13 CgMs Ltd 58 46 22 17 18 77 87 7,000,000
13 =15 Atkins Planning 53 41 4 16 30 3 380 390 23,000,000
14 =19 CB Richard Ellis
Planning 48 37 17 14 17 14 51 60 7,527,000
15 =17 Arup 47 38 19 13 18 19 474 545 31,000,000
16 11 DTZ 44 53 16 10 14 52 86 96 11,700,000
=17 =15 Entec UK Ltd 42 41 8 9 8 20 203 213 8,980,000
=17 14 Halcrow Group
Ltd 42 42 15 11 11 15 380 410 19,200,000
=17 Indigo Planning
Ltd 42 8 14 17 4 63 81 6,660,000
=20 21 Bidwells 36 35 14 12 12 8 51 67
=20 =17 GL Hearn 36 38 16 14 8 11 49 63 7,000,000
22 22 Jacobs 35 33 5 10 11 14 210 210 20,400,000
23 =19 Terence O'Rourke 34 37 8 23 14 10 48 74 11,700,000
=24 =25 Atisreal Ltd 27 25 8 4 6 35 64 7,600,000
=24 =27 David Lock
Associates 27 22 11 7 10 3 60 72 6,900,000
=24 Tribal 27 12 6 10 12 63 71 5,900,000
27 =25 Roger Tym &
Partners 26 25 6 14 9 3 54 73 5,600,000
28 23 King Sturge 25 29 8 11 10 7 37 44 4,100,000
29 =36 Knight Frank 24 18 11 5 6 4 29 36
=30 24 Jones Lang
LaSalle 22 27 6 5 7 7 29 36
=30 =30 Taylor Young Ltd 22 19 4 7 7 9 51 82 4,376,000
32 29 DLP Consulting
Group 21 20 9 7 5 6 52 60 5,500,000
=33 Andrew Martin
Associates 18 3 6 6 7 31 45 4,051,000
=33 =30 BDP 18 19 4 3 9 2 19 21 1,660,000
=35 =27 EDAW Ltd 17 22 11 5 4 7 94 99
=35 =30 Rapleys 17 19 4 6 5 8 25 32 3,040,000
=35 =36 Spawforths 17 18 4 2 6 3 41 55 3,173,000
38 38 Adams Hendry
Consulting Ltd 16 17 4 5 7 3 21 26 2,008,000
=39 =39 Alliance Planning 15 15 5 6 4 6 19 28 2,430,000
=39 =43 Bell Cornwell
Partnership 15 13 5 3 6 2 17 19
=39 =30 Colliers CRE 15 19 7 4 3 6 23 27 2,700,000
=39 =30 DPDS Consulting
Group 15 19 8 4 4 5 22 43 3,000,000
=39 =55 Lambert Smith
Hampton 15 9 5 6 3 2 25 31
=44 =39 Hunter Page
Planning 14 15 6 1 2 14 21
=44 =47 Keppie Planning 14 11 3 2 9 2 16 18
=46 =55 Peacock & Smith 13 9 4 2 4 1 13 16 1,800,000
=46 =45 Tyler-Parkes
Partnership Ltd 13 12 5 3 1 18 23
=48 42 Emery Planning
Partnership Ltd 12 14 4 7 2 18 26 1,730,000
=48 =47 Hyder Consulting
(UK) Ltd 12 11 1 9 6 4 35 40 2,380,000
50 DLA Town
Planning Ltd 11 1 9 5 2 7 13
=51 =53 Baker Associates 10 10 2 5 5 3 16 18
=51 =53 DHA Planning 10 10 6 2 3 6 18 24
=51 =62 ERM 10 7 1 5 5 4 50 72 5,100,000
=51 =47 Scott Brownrigg 10 11 4 2 2 3 14 15 1,300,000
=55 =55 Boyer Planning
Ltd 9 9 3 1 2 5 14 19 2,320,000
=55 =43 Lennon Planning 9 13 2 3 1 1 10 13 1,300,000
=55 =69 SLR Consulting 9 6 2 7 2 2 22 45 9,950,000
=58 Alder King
Planning
Consultants 8 3 1 2 1 9 10 700,000
=58 =62 D&M Planning
Partnership 8 7 3 2 3 8 13 504,000
=58 =62 Tetlow King Group 8 7 5 2 4 26 39 2,850,000
=58 =62 Vincent and
Gorbing 8 7 2 3 2 8 10 930,000
=58 =62 WA Fairhurst &
Partners 8 7 2 3 1 32 32 1,400,000
=63 =55 CDN Planning 7 9 3 2 1 7 7 575,000
=63 =47 Cluttons 7 11 3 3 3 2 14 16 1,061,000
=63 =45 Colin Buchanan 7 12 4 3 3 1 25 30 1,816,000
=63 =69 England & Lyle 7 6 3 1 1 2 9 9
=63 Hives Planning
Ltd 7 3 2 2 2 9 9 1,400,000
=63 =69 Planning
Perspectives 7 6 5 2 1 2 19 23 2,450,000
=63 =69 Smith Stuart
Reynolds 7 6 2 2 3 5 13 20 1,000,000
=70 =69 Enviros
Consulting 6 6 3 2 5 37 40 3,900,000
=70 =62 Harmers Ltd 6 7 2 4 2 6 9 446,000
=70 Pro Vision
Planning 6 3 2 1 9 20 1,510,000
=70 =84 Steven Abbott
Associates 6 4 4 2 1 7 11 784,000
=70 =62 Vail Williams 6 7 3 3 1 3 11 18 1,675,000
=70 =78 WS Planning 6 5 3 3 6 12 14
=76 =78 DMH Stallard 5 5 2 3 1 5 21 21 1,500,000
=76 =84 HLL Humberts
Leisure 5 4 1 3 10 13 1,200,000
=76 =69 John Martin &
Associates 5 6 3 2 1 9 9 400,000
=76 =60 Land Use
Consultants 5 8 4 1 1 5 46 48 3,812,000
=76 =47 London Planning
Practice 5 11 4 1 8 14 17 1,810,000
=76 =60 Metropolis
Planning and
Design 5 8 2 3 3 8 12 1,262,000
=76 =78 Montgomery Forgan
Associates 5 5 3 1 1 5 7
=76 PRP Planning 5 1 2 2 1 6 7 170,000
=76 Robinson Escott
Planning 5 2 3 2 1 7 11 990,000
=76 =84 Smiths Gore 5 4 3 1 2 2 8 12 714,000
=76 Wardell Armstrong 5 2 1 2 5 5 500,000
=87 =84 Amec Earth &
Environmental 4 4 0 2 3 10 10 1,800,000
=87 Bennett Urban
Planning 4 2 2 6 9 10
=87 Cundall 4 1 1 5 6 275,000
=87 DKS Architects 4 1 1 4 4 600,000
=87 =78 Iceni Projects 4 5 3 1 1 6 8 500,000
=87 =84 Landmark
Planning Ltd 4 4 1 1 1 5 6 310,000
=87 =94 Paul Butler
Associates 4 3 3 1 1 2 6 6 370,000
=87 =84 Pragma Planning 4 4 2 5 7
=87 =94 Robert Doughty
Consultancy Ltd 4 3 3 8 12
=87 =84 Stride Treglown
Ltd 4 4 1 2 1 6 9 11 1,004,000
=87 =78 Ward Hadaway 4 5 4 1 10 12 1,462,000
=98 =94 Bloomfields Ltd 3 3 2 1 1 1 4 4
=98 Cass Associates 3 2 1 4 6 836,000
=98 ESA Planning 3 1 1 4 5 400,000
=98 Lanpro 3 2 1 3 4
=98 =84 Muir Smith Evans 3 4 3 3 5
=98 NPS Property
Consultants 3 1 3 3
=98 =94 Parker Dann 3 3 3 1 5 6
=98 =101 Warren
Consultants 3 2 2 3 4
=98 Washbourne
Greenwood 3 3 2 5 5 300,000
=107 Anthony Northcote
Planning 2 2 1 2 3
=107 BHP Develop 2 1 1 1 1 4 4
=107 CA Planning 2 1 2 2 5
=107 =101 Chorlton Planning 2 2 2 1 2 4
=107 =101 David Simmonds
Consultancy 2 2 1 1 11 11
=107 DGG Planning 2 1 1 2 2 216,000
=107 =101 DNS Stuart 2 2 1 1 7 7 600,000
=107 =101 ENPLAN 2 2 1 1 3 5
=107 =101 Evison & Company 2 2 2 2 2
=107 First City 2 1 3 5
=107 Fisher German 2 1 2 1 3 6 250,000
=107 =101 Land & Mineral
Management 2 2 1 1 5 7 300,000
=107 =101 Matrix
Partnership 2 2 2 2 10 12 667,000
=107 =113 Mineral Planning
Group 2 1 1 1 1 2 4 320,000
=107 =101 Robin Bretherick
Associates 2 2 2 1 2 2 170,000
=107 Ross Planning 2 1 1 3 4 160,000
=107 =113 SF Planning Ltd 2 1 1 2 2
=107 Shireconsulting 2 1 1 3 3
=107 =94 Stoneleigh
Planning 2 3 2 3 3 320,000
=107 Urban & Rural
Planning
Associates 2 1 1 2 3 84,000
=107 =101 Willis & Co 2 2 1 2 3 220,000
=107 =101 Woods Hardwick
Planning 2 2 1 1 1 3 4 291,000

FOOTNOTES:
All figures relate to number of full-time or full-time equivalent staff
working in planning consultancy in UK offices at 1 September 2008 unless
otherwise stated
(1) RTPI corporate members
(2) RTPI corporate members at 1 September 2007
(3) RTPI corporate members at director or partner level
(4) RTPI corporate members at associate or equivalent level
(5) Female RTPI corporate members
(6) Non-corporate RTPI members including technical members, associates,
legal associates, student and licentiate members
(7) Members of staff whose time can be billed to clients
(8) All managerial, professional, technical and administrative staff
(9) Planning fee income in year ending 31 March 2008


LEADING EMPLOYERS OF FEMALE PLANNERS 2008

FEMALE RTPI MEMBERS
Rank Consultancy Corporate Directors Associates Student or
08 07 members or partners licentiate

=1 4 Drivers Jonas 43 5 12 12
=1 2 Nathaniel Lichfield
and Partners 43 1 18 27
=1 5 Turley Associates 43 6 12 9
4 3 RPS Group plc 41 11 14 4
5 6 DPP 37 5 7 16
6 7 GVA Grimley 34 4 5 22
7 1 Barton Willmore 32 4 9 3
8 10 Atkins Planning 30 1 8 2
9 8 Savills 27 2 15 10
10 9 Scott Wilson 24 2 7 11


RTPI NON-CORPORATE MEMBERS 2008

RTPI NON-CORPORATE MEMBERS
Rank Consultancy Total Technical Student or Associate
08 07 licentiate

1 9 DTZ 52
2 1 DPP 38 38
=3 3 GVA Grimley 36 34 2
=3 2 Nathaniel Lichfield
and Partners 36 36
=5 Barton Willmore 26 19 7
=5 10 White Young Green 26 16 10
7 =6 Scott Wilson 24 22 2
=8 =6 Drivers Jonas 20 20
=8 =17 Entec UK Ltd 20 18 2
10 Arup 19 19

FOOTNOTE: Rank 2007 for RTPI student members only


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