How do they do it? Rob Murfin

Written by: Colin Marrs
Published on: 26 Aug 2014

Rob Murfin

After working in single tier authorities, pressure groups, academia, waste management and national policy development, Rob Murfin worked in regional planning until 2009. He is currently head of planning at Derbyshire County Council and a director of the Planning Officers Society. 

Q.  What are your objectives in your job and how are you measured on them?

Planning is a political tool you can use to deliver a wide range of objectives. Local politicians want outcomes: quality places, jobs and tackling spatial inequalities - particularly poverty and the environment. They don’t need process measurements. The public want transparent and open decision making. Applicants need understandable requirements, robust approvals and no obsession with micromanaging their business. If you ask the Department for Communities and Local Government, it’s the speed of how we deal with major applications.

I am happy to be measured against all of these and I am lucky that my staff are committed and able to deliver them all. At the moment I present formal progress at a quarterly corporate "performance clinic". This is a good opportunity to be challenged and talk about priorities. The challenge is how to capture all the objectives. Is there really a grand unified theory of performance measurement that looks meaningfully at quality outcomes? I am not certain, not at least without making an industry of it.

Q. What are the three key lessons you have learnt in your career?

A. Strategic coherence is the secret to achieving anything.  Adopted plans, successful funding bids, meaningful decisions, public acceptance and most importantly, on the ground.  

Participation is Key.  Participation is not an inconvenient part of the system; it’s what makes it work. When you lose sight of this, you are missing the point of what planning is actually for.  

Positive planning is everything.  Without focus any public decision making system gravitates to debates on harm and regulation. Planning is applied common sense, but you must articulate and justify the cumulative benefits for society.