Careers Advice: Managing major development projects

Written by: Matthew Hard
Published on: 16 Dec 2019

Therme Manchester

Professional development plans often include an objective to get involved in more complex and newsworthy projects. I have been privileged to act as agent for some very interesting major applications including Therme Manchester (pictured) and have learnt that there are some ways to help make managing such large projects a little bit smoother. 

Be prepared

A lot of organisation is required to handle a large planning application; the proposal will often undergo various design iterations right up to the submission date, whilst supporting reports are unlikely to be finished until a few days (or minutes) before ‘submit’ is pressed. 

Therefore, a planning consultant should get prepared early. Aspects of the project that aren’t dependent on the design or technical work should be identified and agreed early – what will the applicant’s sign-off procedure be? Your client won’t appreciate being given a large folder of assessments to read at 9am on the day you intend to submit. How will documents be handled and updated, when a complex application will have multiple revisions? Get your house in order as soon as possible. What will the local planning authority (LPA) require by way of hard copies? Line your printers up accordingly. 

The submission of a ‘hybrid’ application for a 83,600 square metre mixed-use development at Pall Mall Liverpool required lots of documents to be compressed and split into 10MB chunks. Early agreement with the architect meant they were prepared for this and could plan their workload accordingly.

Too much communication is better than too little

The planning consultant will need to know what other team members are doing. Whether it is being copied in to every email, or organising regular catch-up calls, or any other appropriate method, it is better to have the chance to ignore something, than to not be told something that you would benefit from knowing. 

Likewise, agreeing communication protocols with the applicant – and indeed with the LPA and other parties – can help ensure a smoother ride to submission. 

Don’t panic

Major applications are likely to have more issues to address, and potentially more prospect for things to go wrong. Whilst organisation, preparation, communication and teamwork will help the project, there will always be a risk that a problem arises: a revision to planning policy, an unexpected protected species or - as happened on an application for a 27-storey residential development in Liverpool – a change in officer opinion that resulted in a request for a cycle path through carefully designed landscaping, the day before the application was due to be submitted. 

Whilst you may feel stressed, be frantically calling your ecologist to find out why that particular species has chosen to land in this particular field on this particular day, or texting the head of planning over a weekend, it is important to be calm and find the best solution to the problem. An applicant would probably prefer a measured, diligent consideration of the issue, rather than rushed and muddled advice. 

Also, try to switch off – or switch project – even for a short period.  Working around the clock is only likely to lead to mistakes or stress, which isn’t good for anyone. 

Most importantly, try to find enjoyment in the application. It is an honour to work on major applications that have a significant and longstanding positive impact – whilst it is hard work, it should be rewarding and should be celebrated.  

Matthew Hard is an associate at consultancy Indigo Planning