An inspectorate calling

Rynd Smith's record in planning policy and decision-making in Australia should stand him in good stead for his latest role at the Planning Inspectorate, Domenic Donatantonio predicts.

It is not often that this magazine can lay claim to being a catalyst in the career of one of planning's key policy figures, but here we have a strong case. Rynd Smith, who last week became director of policy, quality and development plans at the Planning Inspectorate (PINS), took a vital step through this publication.

Smith spent eight years shaping planning policy in the Australian state of Victoria after an item in Planning caught his eye. "I was working at the London Borough of Bromley and saw this advert for a job swap with a civil servant in Melbourne. I sent off the application and expected to hear nothing more, but one morning I went into the office early and bizarrely my phone started ringing. I then realised that I was being interviewed down the phone for the role."

His new position was in the equivalent of a government regional office. Australian planning policy is not imposed nationally but through individual states. "I arrived there after their equivalent of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004. It was a baptism of fire. As they had recently changed the planning powers, I was in the fortunate position of being on an equal footing in dealing with the new legislation."

He moved on to Planning Panels Victoria, whose role combines development planning functions and major infrastructure project assessment. Among other schemes, he helped set in motion the new town of Mernda in north-east Melbourne, the Portland Wind Energy project on the border with South Australia and the Melbourne to Adelaide freeway.

When Smith was eventually lured back to the UK to take on the role of head of policy at the RTPI, he realised that he had become a stranger in his own land. He admits that he had difficulty shaking off the Aussie twang he had picked up during his years away. "I felt like a foreigner for a while," he says. "I was told by RTPI publicity man Andy Kliman to stop beginning interviews with 'Look'."

He found that the country had moved on politically and socially. "I left the UK around the end of the John Major era and missed the salad days of New Labour, Cool Britannia and all that," he remembers. "But the Britain I came back to was much more self-confident. I don't think that people complain as much."

Smith served the RTPI as head and then director of policy, leading the response to the 2007 planning white paper and preparations for the Planning Act 2008. He led the battle against plans for local member review bodies, in which councillors would have heard appeals against officers' delegated decisions. "RTPI members were keenly aware of the idea. They told us to stop the proposal. My personal highlight during my time at the RTPI was persuading politicians of all parties that it should not be pursued," he says.

Smith, who replaces Leonora Rozee at PINS, stresses that he was not actively looking for a new role. Yet it seems that he had this career path in mind from an early age. "When I finished my law degree, if you had asked me what I would be doing at the age of 55 I would probably have replied that I would be at PINS," he reveals.

He was approached for his new position by head hunters. "I had made a commitment to myself that I wasn't on the job market. They sold it to me as being a critically important leadership role. They thought that it linked back to my previous experience," he explains. He lives in Brighton with his family, but has no plans to uproot them just yet. "I will be looking for a pied-a-terre in Bristol where I will stay during the week. But I will be up in London probably one day a week anyway," he anticipates.

Looking ahead, Smith's new post brings together a central policy role with the political challenges that a change of government may trigger. "My aim is to ensure that PINS continues to stand for sustained quality in decision-making on appeals and development plans. Planners can still be seen as technocratic and remote from the community. We need to maintain public confidence in our quality," he stresses.

In particular, he will have to tread carefully in links with the Infrastructure Planning Commission (IPC), which the Conservatives have pledged to absorb into PINS. "We view the IPC as a sister body. But if and when there is a new government, we will take on board what it has to say," he comments diplomatically. After nearly 20 years in the profession he should be well equipped to take on the challenge, whatever further opportunities he may come across in the back of a magazine.

Age: 43
Family: Married with three children
Education: Degree in law, London School of Economics
Interests: Hill walking, reading, good food
2009: Director of policy, quality and development plans, Planning
2006: Head of policy rising to director of policy and practice, RTPI
1999: Senior panel member, Planning Panels Victoria
1997: Regional planning officer, Victoria State Government
1993: Conservation officer, London Borough of Bromley
1992: Conservation strategies project officer, RSPB
1989: Local plans assistant, Oswestry Borough Council

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