Careers Advice: Key tips for a successful planning career in the development industry

Written by: Steve Neal
Published on: 11 Mar 2019


Having had the benefit of working in all sectors of the planning profession, I can encapsulate my major pieces of career advice for those working in the development industry into three key categories:

1. Flexibility and adaptability

In an ever-changing environment, it is important that we as planners keep on top of potential policy shifts that may occur. This is never more apt than today as we find ourselves in uncertain political times as well as the dawning of the government’s housing delivery test (to cite a recent example). It is important that we, as planners, are responsive to change and review planning strategies regularly and adapt wherever necessary. We should always keep an open mind and don’t be afraid to change tack if circumstances change and opportunities arise. It is not always easy to keep on top of changes in planning guidance, particularly if you regularly find yourself entrenched in the complexities of detailed planning applications. Fortunately we have a number of helpful colleagues in the consultancy and legal sectors who produce frequent briefing notes and bulletins, often condensing reams of guidance into a manageable document. Whilst I tend not to use social media in my personal life, it does have a valuable place when it comes to keeping up-to-date on planning appeal decisions and local plan examination updates.      

2. Manage Expectations

So much of what planners have to do is opinion-based. As a planner for a housebuilder for instance, classic questions are “what are the planning prospects of……” or “when are we likely to get approval for……”. It is critical in these circumstances to manage people’s expectations. Whilst it may be in some people’s psyche to be positive – and there is no problem with that – often the planning process takes a lot longer than we would like for a myriad of reasons, the majority of which are outside of our control. Be realistic with what advice you offer, and remember it is always better to under-promise and over-deliver than the exact opposite.

3. Planning is a small world

It’s a well-used cliché but with very good reason. Making connections and maintaining relationships is a key part of what land and planning professionals do, particularly from a developer or land promoter perspective. Be respectful of everyone you encounter no matter what. You never know when you will need a favour from a planning officer. or even who your next line manager could be!

Steve Neal is head of planning for developer Harrow Estates, part of the Redrow Group