I paused when I was asked to write this piece. I had clearly been identified as someone with enough grey hairs to write about this subject – something I felt a little ambivalent about. But then I reflected on the years that I have been in this profession and realised that I have seen some major changes in law and policy over the past 25 years and have needed to adapt and change the way I practice in order to provide the best advice.
Whether you think that planning is an art or a science there is continuous change in the way that it is regulated and implemented and it is imperative that practitioners maintain and update their knowledge so that they can provide the most effective service or advice. The political capital that development carries (whether in its promotion or in its prevention) ensures that it is never far from national and local politicians’ minds and the economic drivers behind development also ensure that policies and law are continuously tested.
The consequences of not maintaining a focus on learning can be significant. The structural and sometimes fundamental nature of some of the changes that take place in policy development and/or case law mean that it is possible to provide the wrong advice to clients or elected members or members of the public which could have important consequences for them, and by extension for you as the professional adviser.
While the last year may have been relatively quiet in terms of national policy and legislative developments, it has yielded a host of significant legal judgements as well as appeal decisions. Here at Boyer we pursue a collegiate style of working and at the heart of this is a series of regular and frequent structured discussions and presentations on a wide range of topics that are designed to both inform the team about the latest changes in policy and practice as well as to stimulate discussion about those changes and the implications that they may have for current projects and clients within the office.
These discussions include external speakers from other consultancies which provides many benefits for all those involved including scope for business development as well as sharing of knowledge. We hear from PR companies about the nuances of politics within London Boroughs and in their relationships with the Mayor; we talk to experts about best practice in measuring and demonstrating sustainability in developments; and we keep up to speed with emerging case law and decisions with regard to rights to light and daylight/sunlight. All of which keeps our advice sharp.
We also run a programme of internal learning led by members of our own team. These sessions are very valuable, enabling the team to be brought up to speed on developments in the planning and development industry and providing time for us to gather as fellow professionals and discuss the importance and potential application of the latest changes in law, policy or practice. These sessions are also valuable for providing people with opportunities to present and speak in front of people, thereby developing the softer professional skills as well as honing knowledge and its application. In common with many planning consultancies we have a number of offices across the country and we use video and telephone conferencing to enable us to widen the audience across the company.
Whatever branch of the planning or development profession we work in there is always more to learn and in these febrile political times it is doubly important to take steps to read and talk and learn from all our fellow professionals in this industry. There are so many routes to learning, from reading industry press and publications to attending the many events organised by the RTPI; conferences and seminars; and in these days of blogs and vlogs the increasing number of excellent and regular pieces by planning solicitors and barristers. The latter are available via direct subscription or often on Linkedin. Whatever your situation there are many opportunities for learning so make the most of them and reap the rewards in your personal and professional development and career.
Ben Simpson is director at consultancy Boyer