What is it like to work in the planning team at Tunbridge Wells Borough Council?

Written by: Jennifer Jackson
Published on: 18 Nov 2019

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Steve Baughen, head of planning at Tunbridge Wells Borough Council, tells us about the team culture and exciting planning roles it’s recruiting for.

Tunbridge Wells Borough Council

Tell me about Tunbridge Wells Borough Council and the work you do

The planning service at Tunbridge Wells Borough Council (TWBC) comprises busy development management, planning policy and building control departments, and we’re now setting up a new strategic sites and delivery department given the scale of the sites which are being proposed in the Draft Local Plan. 

The council’s overall approach is ‘shaping the borough, making a difference’, and the planning service is at the heart of this. We operate on an ‘open for business’ basis, seeking to deliver high quality development in the right places, at the right time, and providing excellent customer service in doing so. 

What is Tunbridge Wells like as a place to live and work?

The borough is a great place to both live and work. There’s a real mixture of vibrant towns and villages and beautiful countryside, within one hour’s travel to London and a little longer to Brighton and the south coast.  I moved from London to Tunbridge Wells 12 years ago (well before I started at the council), and have loved living here. 

The town hall is in the centre of Royal Tunbridge Wells, and there’s a real atmosphere around the town, particularly in the parks and town centre during the summer. 

What exciting projects or developments are you working on?

This is a really exciting time for Tunbridge Wells. We’re currently consulting on a full Draft Local Plan, proposing a standalone garden village of 2,800 houses, the expansion of an existing settlement from 4,000 houses to 9,000 houses with a regenerated town centre, a 14 hectare business park at Tunbridge Wells itself, and a need for comprehensive infrastructure between these. Work on the masterplanning of the garden village and settlement expansion, and infrastructure, is due to start soon. 

Tunbridge Wells

There are also numerous neighbourhood plans being developed and there’s a variety of other major proposals across the borough which we’re considering or know will be submitted soon – hence why we’re looking for a number of experienced officers to join the service.

What is the planning team’s culture like?

As well as the open for business approach I mentioned earlier, we work really well as teams and across the departments (particularly planning policy and development management), and with other services. I think that this positive, hard working approach is reflective of the culture of TWBC as a whole. 

There’s a real culture of giving staff the opportunities and support to challenge themselves and take on new opportunities, and to progress as their skills and experience improve. We look to ‘grow our own planners’, so the graduate planners of today are the senior planners in five years, and the principals of today are the future planning policy and development managers. 

What roles are you recruiting for?

We’re currently recruiting for:

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Given the way that we work at TWBC, with high levels of co-operation and interaction between and across the development management and planning policy departments, with officers encouraged to develop experience in each department, we’re keen to hear from candidates with relevant experience in either.  This includes from those who are looking to take the next step in their careers. 

What makes a ‘wonderful workplace’ in planning?

For me, a wonderful workplace in the town planning sector offers interesting political, natural and built environments, with lots of exciting developments and opportunities to be involved in, or have responsibility for these. Good relationships with elected members, developers and stakeholders, along with positive and supportive colleagues, departments and services, all contribute to a positive employee experience.

Tunbridge Wells Borough Council

The input from our specialist tree, heritage, sustainability, landscape and biodiversity officers, add huge value to the local plan making and planning application processes.

Decisive and effective enforcement officers and an efficient technical/validation team, both of which I’m pleased to say we have, also help make TWBC a ‘wonderful workplace’.

What are some of the top perks you offer?

  • Officers are given opportunities to challenge themselves and increase their skills and experience, with the structure of the service providing a clear career path to progress
  • The council operates a flexi-time scheme, with opportunities to work from home when appropriate
  • Membership costs of professional bodies
  • An active staff social club for employees to get involved in and meet people across the organisation

What do you think makes a great planner?

A great planner needs great communication skills along with an eye for detail but with the ability to see the bigger picture. You need to have a positive approach and enjoy a challenge, recognising that the difficult decisions that planners (whatever their experience) reach every day are all ultimately making the borough a better place in terms of place-shaping and positively influencing how people live, work, move and socialise.

What 5 tips would you offer planners applying for roles at local councils?

  • Passion: Demonstrate that you’re passionate to work in that borough/district/county, and in that particular role
  • Adaptable working style: Show how you can work as an individual and as a team...it’s so important to be able to do both
  • Research: Do your research, proportionate to the role – for example, know the position of the Local Plan and the political make-up of the council. Maybe read a recent planning committee report or even attend to watch a committee in advance of an interview
  • Experience: Try and broaden your experience as much as possible.  A lot of the best planners I’ve worked with have experience of preparing/determining planning applications and planning policy work, or working in private practice and for a council
  • Latest trends: One thing I always did was to make sure I’d read the local paper before the interview in case there was anything of particular relevance I could drop into an interview or application form! 

Do you think you’ve got what it takes to be a successful planner at Tunbridge Wells Borough Council? Find out more and apply.

Explore planning jobs at Tunbridge Wells Borough Council