The Things I know - Nick Spall, Planning director, GL Hearn

- Where did you study planning?

I studied town planning at South Bank Polytechnic and urban design at the Polytechnic of Central London.

- What skills did you have when you graduated?

Broad social science and theoretical planning knowledge but little grasp of problem-solving.

- What attracted you to planning?

A love of geography and architecture and a fascination with the future. I naively assumed that by 2001 we would be living in a more ideal world. That seems like a long time ago now.

- What did you learn in your first job?

I realised that the UK planning system can be frustrating but has a depth and flexibility that are very attractive and the envy of planners overseas.

- What skills have you had to learn over your career?

I have been advised to read the Financial Times more by property experts with whom I work closely. I have also come to appreciate the value of urban design. I believe that townscapes determine attitudes.

- What or who have been the biggest influences in your career?

Experienced development control colleagues who could cut through red tape and enable good schemes to happen in a reasonable timescale.

- What is your career highlight?

Negotiating permission for a major cancer research medical park in Hertfordshire was particularly satisfying.

- What have you learnt outside work that has influenced your career?

Life is a race against time and society does not steadily improve without strong teamwork.

- What further skills do you need to obtain or develop?

How to persuade developers and councils that pushing projects forward in a recession will be worth it in two or three years' time.

- How important is it to keep abreast of developments in allied professions?

Town planners are by nature generalists, so taking the broad view requires a good understanding of allied professions.

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