Penguin Recruitment spoke to town planning consultancy, Bell Cornwell, about the company culture, what makes a ‘wonderful workplace’ and top tips for those starting their planning careers.
Bell Cornwell has been established since 1986 - how has the firm evolved and grown over this time?
Bell Cornwell was founded by a team of three who worked hard to develop a strong culture and ethos for the company that was inviting for others. It was this drive that allowed the company to grow over the years, despite the recession of the early 1990s and again in 2008.
As a business, we have a clear idea of who we are, where we want to go and how we intend to do it. Culture, position in the market place and a focus on sustainable growth have been fundamental to our success over the years, paving the way for a better resourced company with the infrastructure in place to support that growth.
This has allowed considerable opportunities for existing staff and for new staff joining the company, as well as investment in new offices. Our success has allowed us to grow to a team of 25 great members of staff in four offices, across the south of England in Hampshire, Devon, London and Buckinghamshire.
Company culture and feel are paramount to any company's success - how do you maintain a distinctive culture?
As you say, culture is fundamental to any company, not just ours. Our culture is focused around a family feel, to be open and supportive, treat each other with dignity and respect and act as one team across all offices, where everybody counts. It is what has defined us over the years and assists us in attracting and recruiting the right people for the job, so that our culture will continue in the future in existing and new offices.
We accept there will always be an element of change during challenging times, but at the heart of all our decisions we stand strong on our culture to retain a successful working environment. We have a clear understanding of our company vision, expectations and goals, and we retain and attract good clients that we enjoy working for. As a result, our clients also benefit from the positive working environment in the service they receive.
What do you offer as a practice to encourage staff's professional growth and development?
We continuously monitor training and continued professional development (CPD) of all members of staff and encourage them to maintain and develop their existing and new expertise. Team meetings to discuss the latest planning legislation and case law are a central focus for the business. One-to-one discussions also play a large part in this, to ensure we as a company fully understand the objectives and goals of each member of staff. This is then factored into their training needs and allows us to support those with aspirations to progress through the company structure.
Bell Cornwell, alongside Cross Harris Architects and Frank Butler Farms Ltd, has successfully secured planning permission for the partial demolition and conversion of an agricultural building measuring 2,850 square meters to provide for a day health spa facility.
What are the current issues in planning that Bell Cornwell is eager to address?
There is currently an emphasis on strategic planning and the influence of key planning policies on how planning applications are dealt with. New definitions of affordable housing and opportunities for development in the Green Belt and on the edge of settlements in certain circumstances are changing the way in which sites are assessed.
What constitutes a 'wonderful workplace' for Bell Cornwell?
The partners have always focused on wanting Bell Cornwell to be a place where people love to work and want to stay. The longevity of current staff is testament to that. A supportive and inclusive culture is integral to that. But above all, cake plays a large part!
Bell Cornwell has expanded across nearly all offices over the last year - what's next for the firm?
We will look to continue to grow in the same organic and sustainable way. We want to ensure that we retain our objectives for the business and the culture within each of our offices, but still operating as one company with experience and expertise shared between offices.
What will the rest of 2019 look like for the team?
2019 looks set to be a successful and consistent year despite the economic uncertainty rumbling in the background. Our wide spread of work and clients ensures that there is always plenty of activity to keep us busy. We will continue to service our existing clients and seek out new ones, and ensure that our knowledge and expertise adapts to the new challenges that planning inevitably brings.
What advice would you give those looking to embark on a career in planning?
Be prepared to get involved in a wide range of issues and projects. No two days are the same. Get experience in the workplace as early as possible to understand the different aspects of planning and find what interests you the most. Planning is a broad career choice with plenty to keep you interested.
Finally, what sets Bell Cornwell apart and makes you unique?
Bell Cornwell is a pure planning consultancy. We don’t try to do anything else. We focus on our core strengths. We employ the best planners and provide our clients with a very personalised service to meet their needs. No two projects are the same and no two clients are the same. We provide our clients with the advice they need to hear and work closely with them to achieve their objectives. Integrity and loyalty are key to our success.
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