Kevin McCloud is right: planners like me are hugely undervalued

As a chartered town planner since 2011, I know all too well what people think of my profession. And as a district councillor in Lichfield, I am also acutely aware of the challenges council planning teams face.

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“A good planner has a real opportunity to develop an area, promote economic growth and help provide high-quality housing”

So it was good to see Grand Design’s Kevin McCloud speaking up for underpaid, undervalued council planners.

Helping to develop new towns and villages, improve retail centres and incubate economic growth are all roles for which planners are responsible. Yet we are often overlooked when the local economy improves, when new shops and leisure outlets move to an area – or when a much-needed school is provided.

Council planners are the people who approve, or reject, developments. When their decision goes against what people want, they can become public enemy No 1. When a proposal to turn a two-bed semi into a miniature Windsor Castle is turned down, people don’t talk about poor architecture and lack of context. Instead, they blame the planning officer, who is protecting the character of an area.

Town planning is a fantastic profession. But with significant reductions in funding following the recession, local authority planning teams are losing experience, and there is a clear shortage of planners. Between 2009 and 2016, there has been a reduction in funding of 55%, according to the Home Builders Federation.

In 2016, nearly one in five public sector planners considered leaving the profession and it has been well publicised that the negative press and dwindling resources have had a real impact on morale. If you also factor in the higher pay available in the private sector, it becomes clear why councils struggle to retain the very best planners.

The housing crisis is heaping even more pressure on local authority planners. We all know the country needs new housing, but locating appropriate sites is a challenge. Addressing Birmingham’s housing shortfall, for instance, needs to be shared between the neighbouring authorities. I certainly do not envy the Lichfield planner who has to identify where to put our share.

With local authorities struggling to balance their books against a backdrop of central government cuts, the position of planners can appear precarious. But I would argue that for councils, investing in the planning team can reap real benefits. A good planner has a real opportunity to develop an area, promote economic growth and help provide high-quality housing. Within my own district planners are helping to drive employment growth, provide much-needed housing, and promote regeneration projects set to revitalise the city centre.

My profession is underloved and overworked – but this can be overcome, if we are able to take on new planners. This is something many councils understand – job adverts are out at most authorities in the Midlands. The authorities have exciting opportunities with town centre regeneration projects, new retail developments – and, of course, the forthcoming 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham. All of these require significant input from local authority planners.

Being a town planner often requires a thick skin. But planners play a vital role in evolving our towns, cities, and rural areas – and public sector planners should receive decent pay and recognition for the work they do to promote economic growth while protecting conservation areas, the green belt and much more.


As published by The Guardian on 2 June 2018



Ben Rayner

Senior Planner Ask me a question