Having studied geography at Manchester University, Stuart Downs completed a short stint at the Environment Agency before joining East Herts Council and progressing to become a major projects officer dealing with town-centre regeneration projects and large-scale housing developments. Following completion of a masters in spatial planning at UCL, he worked for a London-based property developer before joining Woodland Environmental, a niche developer which focuses on land regeneration through the recovery of soils.
What are your objectives in your current role and how are you measured against them?
I cover every aspect of delivering a project from conception to completion as well as formulating company strategy concerning new business opportunities. This involves discovering capital-generating uses on under-utilised land, adding value to run-down leisure sites, local authority parkland, golf courses and farm land. We are currently in the early stages of planning a new safari park within the London area which gives you a flavour of how diverse our projects can be. I am measured on ensuring a continual pipeline of work, which is delivered on time and within budget, reviewed in weekly performance meetings with the team.
Q. What key lessons have you learned during your career that help you to fulfil those objectives?
A. Understand the needs of your client. Structuring deals can be difficult, so gain an insight into the needs of your client and realise the planning opportunities than can maximise value for them.
Cut to the issues. Always meet the issues head on; not every local authority officer is known for having huge vision, and despite the NPPF, I am sure many in the private sector would agree there is still a prevailing attitude that planning is about scrutiny rather than finding solutions. So it is important to anticipate their arguments and outline the justification for your development in detail with the backing of strong technical evidence.
Never be satisfied. Always remain hungry, never sit back and let events overtake you. Understand that everything is in your power and no one else but you holds the keys to your future.