Sue Willcox moved to Quod last September, before that she had worked at supermarket chain Sainsbury’s for 25 years as its head of planning. She is currently involved in planning a range of projects including a prospective garden city, a major infrastructure project and a large retail scheme.
Willcox sits on the London mayor’s Outer London Commission and property lobby group the British Property Federation’s planning committee.
Q: What are the objectives in your current role and how are you measured against them?
Town planning is about developing relationships and I am judged on the way I relate to clients – we have some companies with whom we have worked with for a long time and it is important to nurture these relationships as well as find new clients. I also have a particular role in bringing on the younger planners at Quod.
Q: What key lessons have you learnt during your career that has helped you fulfil those objectives?
It is important to understand what matters to people in areas where you are planning new development. You need to understand their aspirations, the improvements they would like to see in their areas, and the things they don’t want to lose. This could involve looking at improving the area around a development, to enhance a local square or a street. Working with a local community is important. Retailers in particular will not want to open a store in an area where local people are hostile to them.
You need to do your homework properly. Planning is evidence based and it is important to ensure that you collect all the necessary facts and evidence. The facts may not always say what you want them to do, but in many situations there are myths which you need to dispel. People say that their area doesn’t need more housing but today there will almost certainly be evidence which suggests otherwise or that a new shop on the edge of a town centre will take shoppers away from the centre – when they are already mainly going elsewhere and in fact the new development will help retain trade in their area.
It is important to find the right way to communicate a scheme to a local community. It is important to use various approaches depending on who you want to reach. It is not just about one event and a few display boards. You should plan a series of events, face to face meetings or newsletters in order to reach as many of the local community and wider stakeholders as possible.