How do they do it? Sarah O’Driscoll

Written by: Jez Abbott
Published on: 11 Jul 2014

Sarah O’Driscoll

Sarah O’Driscoll is service manager for strategic city planning at Bristol City Council and received a MBE from the Queen recently for services to community and neighbourhood planning in Bristol. O'Driscoll has previously been a planner at the London Borough of Havering and served stints at the City of London Corporation and the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea . She did a degree in geography and an MPhil in town planning at Newcastle University.

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

I have to prepare the local plan for Bristol and liaise and work with adjoining unitary authorities on preparation of a joint planning strategy. I also have to ensure evidence is in place with research and monitoring activities, manage the community infrastructure levy and enable communities to prepare neighbourhood development plans. I am measured on the delivery of documents and policies in a very public way – if they aren't good enough they won't get through scrutiny by inspectors, councillors and secretaries of state. You are only as good as your latest document. 

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

A Trust your instinct
– it's usually right. If something feels uncomfortable in the process or outcome, it needs to be challenged. Have confidence in that gut feeling and work it through. 

Effort is always worth it. But you have to focus that effort in the right places, such as on swift delivery. It's fairly pointless focusing on the process but ignoring the outcome.

Working with people is fun, exhausting and energising. I get huge satisfaction working not only with my team but with community groups on neighbourhood plans, which has allowed us to have a closer relationship with the people affected by local planning.