Town planner job

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Sharon Turner is a planning officer with the London Borough of Camden. In her job she tries to balance the need for progress and new development with the need to protect the environment and maintain a good quality of life for people in the area.

What is your role as a town planner?

People must apply to the local authority for planning permission if they want to change the environment in some way. It's my job to consider the applications and make recommendations to grant or refuse schemes to the director of the department.

When a planning application arrives on my desk, I make sure that it contains all the right documents, like drawings and location plans, and that all the forms are filled in correctly.

What happens next?

People who might be affected by the development have to be given the chance to comment on, support or object to the proposals. For very large developments, I might arrange a public meeting, where the developers and architects talk about the scheme and members of the public can look at plans and models, ask questions and make comments. That gives me the chance to hear everyone's opinion of the project.

What happens if you refuse planning permission?

The applicant has the right to appeal against the decision. The appeal is considered by the planning inspectorate, which is an independent government body. I send them the evidence, like plans and statements, on which I based my decision. Sometimes an appeal might result in a hearing (an informal round table discussion) or a public inquiry. I may represent the council's point of view at the hearing.

What skills do you need to be a town planner?

Problem solving skills are really important. A lot of this work involves resolving conflict, so negotiation skills and the ability to see different points of view are essential. Patience and team working skills are also helpful.

Do you spend all your time in the office?

No. I spend about one day a week on site. When a developer has applied to put up a new building, I may need to visit the site to look at factors such as how near it will be to other buildings, whether any trees will be cut down on the site and how the new development could affect people living and working nearby. I work a normal 35-hour week.

Do you spend much time working with people?

There is a lot of personal contact, both faceto- face and on the phone. I spend time talking to people who apply for planning permission, their agents and their architects. Sometimes, people who object to a new development visit our offices to look at plans and discuss how the work might affect them.

Also, I respond to letters from the public – these are often general enquiries about planning permission.

What do you like most about your town planner job?

I enjoy the variety. I deal with a wide range of projects from very simple things to large schemes that will affect the way we live, such as new low-cost housing developments.

It is very satisfying to see developments that I have been involved with being completed.

Sharon's route to her town planner job

  • A levels.
  • Master's degree in town and country planning.
  • Two years in the planning department with Stratford upon Avon District Council.
  • Present job.

Sharon's town planner tips

  • Geography, maths and English are useful school subjects to prepare for this career.
  • Write to your local planning department and try to arrange some work experience.

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Salary of a town planner

  • Starting salary is likely to be between £17,700 and £21,800.
  • A senior town planner can earn between £20,000 and £30,000, rising to £35,000 as a chief officer.

How to become a town planner

  • To be a town planner you must be a member of the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI).
  • To qualify for membership you must have successfully completed a RTPI accredited undergraduate or postgraduate degree or diploma course and have two years' relevant practical experience.
  • A joint distance-learning diploma/MA in town planning is also available.

Modified: 16 June 2013

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