The traditional career route for a planner is typically working in the public sector - for example at a local planning authority - or working for a planning consultancy. But much of my career experience so far has been gained through a third route (private sector) - working for developers. I would highly recommend this route for those wanting to gain a wider appreciation of the macro-economic vacuum in which the property industry operates, as well as issues such as development viability, the importance of timing and the practicalities of delivering development.
In order to deliver development, developers need to acquire land and secure planning consents. The role of a developer’s in-house planner is therefore a critical component for the organisation, in order to ensure that a pipeline of delivery can be maintained.
Working as a planner for a developer requires commercial and political awareness, an in-depth knowledge of the planning system, the ability to problem-solve, take decisions, communicate with a wide variety of stakeholders and ultimately negotiate a viable planning consent that can be delivered on time.
My first position with a developer was as a graduate planner with national housebuilder, Persimmon Homes, and I was based in the firm’s South East division. Whist at Persimmon, I completed the RTPI accreditation of professional competence (APC) process to become a chartered town planner. The training was very much ‘hands on’ rather than a structured graduate programme, and it allowed me to have a great degree of flexibility to shape my learning under the guidance of a planning team based at a regional and national level.
My role was focused in the land team and the sites were categorised as ‘immediate’ or ‘strategic’. Theoretically speaking, the term ‘immediate’ means that a planning application has the potential to be progressed now, and ‘strategic’ means promotion is be required to unlock the planning potential. The first skill required in this role is the ability to identify if a site has any planning potential, whether that be in an immediate of strategic capacity. Immediate sites require the ability to interpret and apply adopted planning policy, consider the absolute and non-absolute site constraints, and make a judgement on the likelihood of securing consent, and what exactly that consent might comprise. In addition, strategic sites often require an in-depth knowledge of the plan-making process and the ability to justify an appropriate planning strategy.
I am currently a planning manager for Kitewood, a privately-owned, medium-sized developer based in London. My role is really varied, as I manage a portfolio of predominantly residential/mixed-use sites and I also advise the team on new land acquisitions, thinking through the planning strategy, leading site promotion activities along with overseeing the planning application process where there is an immediate opportunity. I am also involved in the process of preparing development appraisals which has provided me a greater understanding of development viability and its implications for the business.
The size of the company and the management structure is quite different in comparison to a national housebuilder. However, my role is very much the same, with the added responsibility that comes with career progression.
Putting the unscrupulous developer stereotype aside, the opportunity to work for a developer is not to be overlooked for planners who want to gain a holistic overview of the development industry and gain an in-depth understanding of the practical reality of delivering development from both a planning and commercial perspective.
Sara Sweeney is planning manager at developer Kitewood