How do they do it? The TCPA's Hugh Ellis

Written by: Colin Marrs
Published on: 14 May 2014

Hugh Ellis head of policy TCPA

Hugh Ellis is policy director at the Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA). He joined the charity as senior planner in April 2009 after 10 years working as senior planning advisor to campaign group Friends of the Earth.

He previously worked as a lecturer in the University of Sheffield’s planning school.

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

A. The TCPA is a small non-governmental organisation, so everyone needs to help with everything. Our main current policy objective is to ensure that the principles of garden cities are out there and adopted by national and local government. We are very wary of the term being kicked around just because it includes the word “garden”. My role is to help ensure that we hold government to account for promises made around the concept.

The organisation works to a corporate plan and individual campaign plans. However, success is defined by our ability to be flexible – we need to wake up in the morning and respond to national developments. So we have strategic and tactical goals.

I have a six month appraisal, which is an informal assessment of my work. This meeting sets clear objectives for my next period of work. The TCPA survives on project funding – it is not a charity with masses of core funding. I, along with all my colleagues have to be very alive to the financial situation and the need to source income. We meet weekly and that is always one of the big issues. We have financial targets to meet.

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

A. Planners must be more vocal. As a profession we need to shout about what we do and why planning is vital to the future of society. I am sad we have not bitten back in the face of some fairly crazy deregulatory ideas. It would be great to see planners do that more. We need to start using our elbows a bit more.

Planning has to rediscover its social purpose. Issues such as delivering equality and responding to climate change have been shoved firmly under the carpet. I don’t know whether to feel depressed or optimistic that this will provoke a reaction. Planning is currently neither spatial or strategic and there we need to get back to a properly plan-led system.

Planning needs to become a bit more glamorous. Confessiong to being a planner is a sure-fire way to clear a room at a party. The profession needs to become a bit more “Hollywood”.