Careers Advice: When Opportunity Knocks

David Bainbridge

Never let an opportunity go by; grab it with both hands and run with it!

It took me a while to let excitement overcome fear, but early into my career whilst still working in local government, I got advice from a more senior planning officer to do exactly this.

It started with participation in the Royal Town Planning Institute at the regional level and it has led to a situation today where I am now active in many groups and have developed a broad and rewarding professional network.

Working as a planner and being chartered for just over 20 years, of which nearly 15 years has been in a property consultancy, has been an absolute blast; and there’s more to come.

The point about fear is that it can inhibit the person. Some fear walking into a room not knowing whether they know anyone, some fear public speaking, some fear being expert witness for a planning appeal or such like.  

Whilst it is normal to feel the nerves, there are coping strategies which can help anyone to address fears and to seize the opportunity. A few examples are:

  1. Be prepared – know the venue and your subject matter!

  2. Plan the routine where possible.

  3. See if someone close/friendly can accompany you so you can see them in the audience.

  4. Think ahead to when it’ll all be over!

I have received the support of key senior colleagues in various posts I have worked in, which has helped me to develop technical skills within town and country planning and wider ‘soft skills’.

In my role as planning consultant I have the pleasure of working for many different clients, often within wider consultant teams.  This can be challenging but also massively rewarding as every week there is something new learned to reflect on.

Opportunity doesn’t always present itself but rather sometimes it is necessary to create the conditions that can lead to an opportunity.  Therefore, if opportunity doesn’t knock, go knocking on the door for it.

This can involve showing interest in a new project or new subject matter whether it be biodiversity in the planning for development or the mystery that is the standard methodology for calculating housing requirements!

In my second job, still in local government, I asked to gain more experience in planning appeals and within a short-time I was given a planning appeal inquiry. With support of colleagues, one of whom is now a Planning Inspector, I researched the grounds for the appeal, prepared a proof of evidence over a long hot summer in the early noughties and then acted as planning expert witness at the appeal inquiry.

It was an experience I will never forget. Not all for good reasons but I learned about building a case and how to present this under scrutiny and although I wasn’t successful in the appeal it was a start.

Public speaking is another area that some try to avoid but it can be such a powerful way to express views and ideas and to learn from others. Within reason I take every opportunity I can to speak at events on relevant aspects of planning. Although I never truly know how others perceive me as a speaker, when it comes to the discussion it is always rewarding and often sparks ideas and leads to additional opportunity.

Having a professional network is so important for career development and indeed self-development. I learn more from others, than others learn from me, and I try to soak-up knowledge and apply it to client work.  

I find mentoring, both formally and informally, to be such a rewarding area.  I have colleagues past and present who I have passed on some knowledge and without fail I have learned from them also. An APC Licentiate can provide insight into ways of working and means to access research and advice which can be invaluable without necessarily having the full-on technical planning knowledge.

There is so much diversity within the field of town and country planning that can deliver a rich and rewarding career. The key is to not let opportunity go knocking. 

David Bainbridge (pictured) is a partner at consultancy Bidwells

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