How do they do it?: Mike Derbyshire, partner and head of planning at Bidwells

Written by: Michael Donnelly
Published on: 14 Apr 2014

Mike Derbyshire

Mike Derbyshire is a partner and head of planning at consultancy Bidwells. Derbyshire took up the role in November last year after moving from Savills in London, where he was a senior director. Previously he was chief planning officer at Broadland District Council. He is based in the firm’s Cambridge office and manages a planning staff of 35. Currently, Derbyshire is working on big projects in and around Cambridge, including the CB1 mixed-use regeneration around the city’s train station.

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

A. My role is basically to take the organisation from a period of consolidation over the last five years of recession to embracing growth and the opportunities associated with growth. So I am identifying those areas in terms of skillsets where we need to grow  - viability, five-year housing land supply and making the case for objectively assessed housing needs and the growing issues around Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA). Those are just three areas where we will need the skillsets to provide the services our clients need in this market. And then there’s the geography - expanding in those areas that are growing and where there is the potential for growth for planning services. In towns like Cambridge there are issues that have been well-rehearsed in London, particularly viability, that are now expanding into the regions with changes in legislation and the ability for developers to challenge section 106 agreements if they make developments unviable. That’s been fairly well trodden in London and there are [now] opportunities in the regions.

I am measured in terms of expansion, and the addition of new skills to the planning division. Also, when you work for a big multi-disciplinary team, it’s making sure that planning is central to the operation of that team. Because, clearly, when you work with 500 people, there are huge opportunities to help clients and generate business at the same time. There are other measures too. Are the staff happy in the environment that they work in, the direction of travel you are going and how clear is your business plan? One of the key things that I had to do when I started was to produce a business plan that was understandable, believable and simple.  

Q: What key lessons have you learned during your career that help you to fulfil these objectives?

A. Make things happen, be someone that identifies problems and a way to solve them. Problems occur in planning on a daily basis. It’s part and parcel of what we do. But the successful planner is the one that shares the problem with a client and works for a solution.

You’re a temporary owner of a business. I’m a partner at Bidwells. [The firm] has been around for 175 years. It’s making sure that you leave the business in better health than when you started, because you are only a temporary owner of the business. It was there before you, it will be there after you … you have a responsibility to leave it in good shape for the partners of the next generation and the planners of the next generation.

Integrity. It’s about long-term relationships. In a thirty-year career, it’s about long-term relationships, it’s not about short-term successes that may be profitable. The company I’ve joined is all about integrity. We’d rather walk away from a job if it compromised us. That’s the lesson I’d give to someone starting their planning career. Never think about the short term, think what is the right thing to do in the medium to long term.

[Over the last year] there’s been a huge change in sentiment in terms of the market and it’s making sure that you grow sustainably but you identify those areas in terms of geography and service that you can grow into without compromising existing clients or the integrity of what your company does.