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09/11/2017

I, planner

Words:

What is it we actually do as planners, asks Ian Ford

“So what is it that you actually do?” is a question that I often get asked at events. My role may seem obvious in planning circles but it’s understandable that people outside this group may not realise the benefits planners can bring to projects. The question leads me to simply state: “I help clients obtain consent for developments”; this often leaves me feeling despondent, as I know there’s more to the job than that.

Some people may think obtaining consents is straightforward and for some small developments it can be. However, when it comes to more complex projects, a good planner can help resolve a range of issues ranging from interpreting policy to section 106 negotiations. 

Having a planner on board can enable a more robust and flexible consent, which is normally obtained more efficiently, saving time and money. 

"We are often the glue that holds schemes together during the planning process"

Planners can also act as micro project managers; we are often the glue that holds schemes together during the planning process. With my projects, I ensure that everyone is working to programme and team members are all on the same page. I make sure I have a general understanding and knowledge of other disciplines such as flood risk, ecology and heritage. This means keeping track of local and national policy changes and new legislation coming in (take the recent EIA amendments, for example). Planners make certain that applications are managed well and issues that may affect the process are picked up and resolved quickly. 

I recently obtained consent for three neighbouring residential developments along Liverpool’s waterfront. Three different developers, architects and design teams were involved; we were the only consistent consultant.

My role involved ensuring that all projects took account of one another to guarantee there were no major negative cumulative impacts and that a previously outline consent was not void due to these schemes. I had to constantly speak to the design team, which included archaeologists, transport planners, wind modellers and architects. Having this overall understanding improved the planning process and quality of all the projects.

Planners provide valuable and realistic solutions to help projects move along. We understand planning procedure and anticipate the future, which allows us to be better prepared today. After all, anticipation is more effective than reacting to problems that arise due to poor planning. 

So when next asked what I do, I won’t give my standard response. Planners provide a wider service than that and are an important cog in the machine. We input into schemes where our skills can lead to more appropriate, more enhanced developments and therefore better places.

Ian Ford MRTPI is a senior town planner with Arup in Liverpool

Image credit | iStock

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