How do they do it? Phil Crabtree

Written by: Adam Branson
Published on: 2 Apr 2014

Phil Crabtree

Phil Crabtree is chief planner at Leeds City Council, where he is responsible for strategic planning and development control in England’s second biggest local authority. He was previously assistant director of planning control at Birmingham City Council.

Key targets:  "My job is to foster the council’s growth ambitions while at the same time ensuring high environmental and design quality. My performance is judged in a variety of ways. Partly it’s done on our performance on determining planning applications, like any local authority, but we also do customer satisfaction surveys with people who have made applications or responded to planning applications. We also enter national awards programmes, which can help indicate our success on design quality. We’ve had a series of national awards, including a Built for Life Award last year from the Home Builders Federation, Cabe at the Design Council and Design for Homes.”

Key things I’ve learned:

“You’ve got to be able to straddle fields well beyond planning. Planning is a synthesizing profession where you bring a whole series of perspectives and skill sets to bare. They relate to understanding the property market, the role of planning law, the relationship between the public sector and private investors and community aspirations. It’s about how you bring those together.”

“Have a keen eye for financial viability and the art of the possible. The economic development side of what we do has been upper most in my mind for many years. I went to Birmingham in 1984 to work in economic development and regeneration, so it’s an important part of my background. The role that planning plays in economic revival and prosperity is hugely important, especially in ensuring that the benefits of investment spreads as widely as possible to the communities that are affected.”

“Creating the right political climate is essential for good decision making. Since I’ve been in Leeds we’ve looked at how we take decisions and the ways in which we involve members in the decision making process. We created new strategic plans panel to deal with the most important applications. We’ve got established protocols for engaging with members and local communities, and hold regular member briefings once a month where members have requested them. We have also created a much more spatial basis for planning officers’ roles, so they have a much closer relationship with members and communities. As a result we’ve got better quality decision making and stronger working relationships between members and officers.”