Careers Advice: Presenting at planning (development management) committee

Written by: Richard Temple
Published On: 18 Nov 2019

Council chamber (John Hickey-Fry Flickr)

As a major projects senior planner, I present my applications and those for other officers for two area committees. I first presented as a planning officer in the late 2000s. I now lead and present consistently for applications ranging from householder schemes to strategic allocated sites.

Committee presentations can be an intimidating prospect for new and experienced planners. Don’t let it be. It’s essential to career progression. Approached correctly they can be manageable and a valuable experience.

Key advice:

  • Prep: Know your case (policies, site, development, constraints, surroundings, consultees).

  • Structure: Chairperson leads the committee. Know your authority’s scheme of delegation & procedures.

  • Presentation & behaviours: Don’t be prescriptive (keep it precise). Remain calm, polite & professional (RTPI code of conduct). Respect the public, members & agent. Don’t be over-confident.

  • Team: Use legal representatives, DM manager & consultees.

Preparation

Keep an organised file. If using a paper file, have key consultee responses, relevant planning history and plans to hand.

Analyse public and parish representations. Prepare to speak/present on main objections.

Ask key consultees if they can attend if possible.

Presentation slides - use the most suitable photos only; include updates to report, additional information submitted, late reps & consultee comments. Use key plans only. Aerial photos/street views with annotations are vital.

Know the speakers; a list is available before committee. See if the agent/applicant is speaking.

Contact committee clerk to see if there are any issues with the event itself i.e. may need additional seating etc.

Know your members. You will meet the chair, vice chair, or stand-in member at committee debrief. But these are rarely extensive meetings. Their details will be available online.

Structure

In general (order may vary):-

  • Your presentation

  • Speakers

  • Questions to speakers from Members and you

  • You respond

  • Questions to you from Members (if any)

  • Members discussion (you may be asked to assist)

  • Vote. A member will have to make a motion for a recommendation, allowed by chair, be seconded and a vote made. Members either abstain, vote for or against.

  • Members may defer decision for additional consultee responses or a site visit

Presentation & behaviours

Dress smartly, remain calm, you may wish to stand but are not required to. With correct preparation you can cope with the most “leftfield” issues arising (they will). Have laptop ready with internet connection if clarity is needed on anything.

Avoid planning jargon, use plain English/layperson’s terms where possible. Especially important if disagreeing/responding to a point made against your recommendation.

Have the NPPF, local plan and other relevant policy documents to hand.

Start by stating something like “…I assume members have read the officer report and viewed the plans”. Present slides clearly, concisely, briefly! Members & public should have read your report/viewed plans already.

Listen to speakers carefully. Prepare responses to main points.

Allow the chair to lead meeting/discussion. Only respond when offered opportunity or politely request. They will offer you opportunity.

Remember, you are presenting your recommendation. Responsibility for the decision lies with members. If it’s clear your recommendation will be overturned, do not respond excessively for your case, accept it. However, be clear that members must have policy basis for refusal. Draft a reason for refusal and offer to them. 

Members must arrive with an open mind. Watch for pre-emptive decision making. At one new committee I had, an experienced/influential member arrived with written reasons for refusal and passed them to other members. This is unacceptable, as our legal representative pointed out. Be mindful - new committees (following local elections) will be challenging at first. Officer recommendation overturns may be more common. Be patient, it is a difficult role for new members.

Team

To re-iterate - make use of your DM manager if present and use your consultees.

Finally, nothing is personal at committees, although it may seem as if they can be emotive. Committee’s role is to consider applications and make decisions on behalf of the authority. They won’t always go your way - let that go.

Afterwards, do something completely different, relax and when you’ve worked the evening committee go into work the next day later.

Good luck, you will be fine.

Richard Temple is a development management planner at a local authority

Pic credit: John Hickey-Fry, Flickr