Principal specialist for spatial planning for Natural England Jo Russell joined Wokingham District Council in the mid 1980s as a planning assistant and graduated part-time in town and country planning. After 11 years at North Somerset Council, where she rose to senior planning policy officer, she moved to the Countryside Agency in 2000. Russell was there when it merged with other groups in 2006 to form Natural England, and has been there ever since. Last year Natural England’s performance in responding to planning consultations hit record levels, with 98.9 per cent receiving official advice within the deadline.
Q. What are your objectives in your current role and how are you measured against them?
My role is about providing technical advice to Natural England staff and government on the implications of the planning reforms on our work. As one on the five big statutory consultees that deal with the most planning applications, I'm responsible for supporting our staff; we have 14 area teams with 100 people working on planning case work, so I have to develop their capacity to deliver our planning advice more effectively, be it offering draft guidance, community training, mentoring or running technical networks. We have appraisals twice a year, but generally it's about the timing and quality of advice and the feedback we get from customers and stakeholders such as local authorities and developers on how they feel about Natural England.
Q. What key lessons have you learned during your career that help you to fulfil those objectives?
A. Don't lose site of the bigger picture. Try to avoid getting bogged down in detail and losing sight of what you are trying to achieve overall.
Focus on solutions. It's easy to focus on problems, but I have found that in most cases you can achieve a win-win outcome for both development and the natural environment if you try hard enough and go about it the right way.
You may think you know the answers. But you don't. It's important to work with others to try and reach a consensus. I couldn't do my job without working with people with other experiences and from other disciplines.