Last month, Westminster City Council announced that Ed Watson was to take over as its new executive director of growth, planning and housing. Planning caught up with Watson, currently director of culture and environment at London Borough of Camden, about the appointment process, and what he is hoping to achieve in his new role.
Q. How does recruitment work at your level? Did you get headhunted?
A. Yes, you do tend to get headhunted to start with. But you very rarely get headhunted and dropped straight into the role. I was asked whether I was interested and then had to go through a series of technical and personality test, plus interviews with the chief executive and two lead cabinet members.
Q. What did you want to find out about Westminster?
A. It was partly about what the aspirations of the organisation were – what did they expect? Was it change or steady as she goes, and how did that fit into what I might be able to offer?
Q. Now you have got the job, what are you doing to prepare for your first day?
A. I am still working at Camden and don’t start at Westminster until the third week of January. Having gone through the process and prepped, I will start broadly knowing what the culture of the organisation is. I have started to acclimatise myself by going to a few meetings with my new management teams.
Q. Was the fact that Westminster is famously the busiest planning department in the country a draw for you?
A. Not necessarily the volume, but the nature of the work it does. In the UK there are a few premier authorities – Birmingham and Manchester and Camden, Westminster and City of London here in the capital. They have high ambitions and challenging circumstances. Westminster has some very interesting buildings from the Palace of Westminster to new development around Paddington.
Q. What are you looking to achieve in the new role?
A. I need to make sure I deliver on the members’ and chief executive’s aspirations on the services I am leading. First of all I need to build relationships with my new team. I have a record in delivering cultural change and I imagine that Westminster will want to go further and faster with its current transformation efforts.
There is a significant aspiration around growth and help Westminster deliver growth to deliver benefits for local communities – to provide access to housing and jobs and to ensure the growth we deliver works for partners such as business improvement districts.
Q. Will you miss Camden?
A. I will. It is a great borough and has done some incredibly interesting things to work on things like Kings Cross, which has achieved an international reputation in terms of placemaking quality. However, it is time for me to move on.