#PlanningMarch – Insights into the skills and mindset of a planner by Phil Williams
Having spent over 40 years as a local government planner, I am now a planning director in my own consultancy practice.
What’s the difference between the two roles? Very little, if you understand that a planner’s role is to provide sustainable, good quality designed projects that protect and enhance the built and natural environments, promote economic prosperity and regeneration, and ensure social and cultural cohesion.
The skills needed to be a successful planner are numerous, but central to everything is a mindset based on political impartiality, integrity, transparency, objectivity, the ability to balance competing demands, and measure preferred options on a sound evidence base.
The introduction of the Well-being of Future Generations Act in has added a new and necessary dimension to our strategic thinking, in ensuring that we pay equal attention to the long-term future as to the present day.
Planning can be undertaken at many levels; creating strategic plans at national and regional levels or promoting community-based plans that influence how a development takes place at a local level.
The role is varied; I can be looking at strategic housing or employment solutions in the morning and the impact of a house extension in the afternoon.
The change of emphasis over recent years in public consultations has been welcomed with a focus on the planning work that best serves people and communities.
Increasingly, the focus is around engagement rather than consultation, listening to the aspirations of the individual, the community, and managing political expectations. Listening is a crucial skill and it is our role to listen and take into consideration all contributions and try to influence outcomes for the public’s benefit.
At national and global levels, planners can play an important role in tackling many high-level challenges, such as improving well-being and quality of life through health impact assessments, air quality monitoring, gender equality and sustainable transport frameworks.
Add to the list the challenges climate change brings, especially with the continued rise in sea levels, you see how we play a truly integral part in helping to provide answers to fundamental challenges in today’s society.
We are regarded by some people as an unwelcome necessity, whilst others see us as providers of solutions to problems that no-one else can provide. It seems to me that the planner adds value to the process!
The planning system has been operating in the UK for over 100 years and the Royal Town Planning Institute celebrated its centenary in 2014. It has over 25,000 members across the world and without that expertise and influence, society at all levels, and the built and natural environments it relies on, would be worse off.
The planners of the future will need to be the guardians and shapers of positive decision making that respond to the challenges of future generations.
The Well-being of Future Generations Act is a primary source of influence, and planners need to use it in their daily thinking. It needs to be seen as a step change in our thought processes and embedded in our DNA.
You can find more about Phil Williams on his LinkedIn profile