How do they do it? Jim Mackay

Written by: Jez Abbott
Published on: 27 Feb 2015

Jim Mackay

The unit manager for planning at the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) on the lessons learnt during his career.

Jim Mackay was a research fellow before joining SEPA as a senior planning officer 10 years ago. He became manager in the north where he leads all the planning staff, which total 19 front-line planning employees. Before SEPA Mackay worked in Merseyside running the Environmental Advisory Service for all the local authorities in the region.

Q. What are your objectives in your current role and how are you measured against them? 

My current objective is delivering efficiency in the planning service, which involves spending a lot of time thinking how things are done and how we can tackle them more efficiently and helpfully by cutting out unnecessary work. This also calls for a lot of pre-application engagement with councils, communities, developers and statutory agencies. Detail of our performance goes on the government website and we are measured on issues like speed of response and the average time of response. We also meet with every local authority each year to talk about what has been done well and what could have been done better.

Q. What key lessons have you learnt during your career that help you to fulfil those objectives? 

A. Think it through and then be decisive. How often do people immediately jump to a decision without looking at all the facts? Other people meanwhile agonise over decisions, but I have arrived at a stage in life where I want the right amount of information to make a decision and then move on.

There are always two sides to every story. You may think you know all there is about a planning application but if you go out and speak to the developer and see it from their side, it can make a profound difference to how you approach the proposal.

Teamwork is very important. When teamwork goes well it's an enormously positive feeling for the manager and staff, so make it your job to ensure your team has a can-do, help-everybody ethos. This is especially so in planning, a difficult job because it deals with conflicting interests. But the workplace should be happy, not oppressive, and good teamwork always helps.