Roger Hepher, Savills’ head of planning, manages one of the UK’s largest planning consultancy teams. His role combines managing a team of 180 planners, winning new and high profile business, and continuing to improve the service his team can offer to clients.
Q. What are your objectives in your current role and how are you measured against them?
I am certainly expected to perform commercially. We’re seen as a senior commercial department that makes a good return in its own right, but also one that has to be at the heart of things, interacting with the agency departments and the other advisory departments. I’m also measured on how I move the business on. The business is constantly changing and planning is expected to change and improve.
The third thing is that within Savills we have a very wide range of skill sets and what we try very hard to do is blend those skills. We don’t want to force anything onto anyone, but often clients find it helpful to have planning consultancy blended with viability assessment and advice on affordable housing. The board is also interested in Savills being involved in some of the bigger trophy projects. They like to have a smattering of those in the portfolio.
Q. What key lessons you have learnt during your career?
I’ve learned not to take no for answer and to recognise that in planning, actually, most things can be arguable. The skill is identifying the right lines of argument to employ. As planning’s reach has widened over the years it is trying achieve so many different things and pointing in so many different directions simultaneously. So even if you can’t justify something under agenda items 1-5, you might be able to justify them under agenda items 6-10. Decades ago it was much more black and white.
One of my key skills is being able to see the wood for the trees. There is so much information circulating in the planning system that it’s very easy to lose sight of the things that really matter. And related to that is the importance of recognising the importance of people. Because you can make a technical case for all sorts of things, but at the end of the day it is going to be certain politicians who make the decision about an application and they will be advised by a planning officer or a small number of officers. So understanding the people you’re dealing with and being persuasive with them is critically important.
The other thing is that understanding and respecting your people is critically important. A team like mine is nothing without its people and their skills. You need to keep people motivated, interested in what they’re doing and recognise that some people are more interested in some things than others. So it’s about having that fine-grained knowledge of the people around you and playing to their strengths.
Planning is also a constantly changing world and the business environment is changing. So I’m always looking for ways to move the business forward. In recent times we’ve strengthened what we can offer in terms of viability assessment and economic impact assessment. We’ve also strengthened our offer in terms of heritage planning and CIL rate setting and increasing helping clients to mitigate the cost of CIL. You’ve got to be constantly looking at what’s happening and what’s likely to happen in terms of the planning agenda and making sure that you’ve got the right people with the right skills to respond.