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Principal Planning Officer Career Profile

Written by: Fiona Narburgh
Published on: 21 Apr 2021

Meet Katherine, an everyday hero working as a Principal Planning Officer at Wychavon and Malvern Hills District Councils.  

Below Katherine has shared her story to show what a career as a Principal Planning Officer is like.

What's your role in a nutshell?katherine

I work as a Planning Officer on planning applications for major employment and housing developments, retail and leisure facilities and hotel developments. Developers submit planning applications to us at the council and it’s part of my job to decide if they fit with our Development Plan and if not, whether and how the application can be improved so that it is in accordance with policy.

My role helps improve the quality of life for people, by making sure the right development is in the right place at the right time and built to the highest standards. It’s about creating places that are great to live and work in, and I get to see the results of my work on the ground, whether that’s a medical centre in Broadway or a business park in Evesham, and know I’ve played a role shaping the final design and build.

Was this a planned career or one you fell into?

Planned. After my geography degree I completed a two year full time Masters in Town Planning then got a Planning Officer position in Development Management at another Local Authority in the West Midlands. After four years I moved to the private sector where I progressed to a senior level during my 10 years there. After having my children I wanted to find a planning role with fewer and more flexible hours; I now work part time, based in Pershore, working in a shared service across two councils - Wychavon and Malvern Hills.  

Are you a doer, manager or leader?

Mostly a doer and I mentor graduates in the team and can deputise for my manager and guide junior staff when needed. I’ve had the opportunity to do a leadership development programme while working here too.

What do you love best & love least about your job?

I really enjoy working with developers, other departments within the Council and other outside agencies to negotiate improvements to planning applications to make them more sustainable for the environment and as good a design quality as possible. Most weeks I’m out and about visiting sites and talking to people; I do love that variety and being in the community.

The worst part is dealing with angry people who are objecting to a  development, sometimes because the development is of poor quality or does not accord with the development plan or at other time because they simply do not want the development in their area.. Part of my role is to consider any objections that might be made to a planning objection and whether they constitute material planning considerations.

Do you need: Qualifications? University or apprenticeship or special skills?

Being able to work well with people including developers, councillors and members of the public are essential skills. Strong negotiation and influencing skills are much needed to achieve a good result on the ground.

On formal qualifications my route was to do a Masters in Town Planning; when I qualified the courses were a minimum of 2 years full time but now they are just one year - after a degree. It’s possible to study for your Masters while working too – we have graduates in our team doing day release.  To be a fully chartered planner, as well as a relevant degree and experience you need to pass the APC and become a member of the RTPI (Royal Town Planning Institute). There is a route to membership without a Town Planning degree but you must have accumulated many years of relevant experience in a planning role first.

Routine or variety?

There is some routine in that I’m writing reports for the regular cycle of planning committees - every four weeks - setting out my assessment of the applications and recommendations to councillors who make the final decisions on big developments.  However every application throws up different types of issues so that makes the job quite varied too.

Pay check, calling or other benefits?

Flexibility is more important to me than money at the moment.  I wanted a job that I could fit round being a mum to three young children, although I still feel quite well paid. Flexibility is definitely one of the benefits of working for a council, as well as being part of a great team. I’ve been well supported to work from home too, again a real benefit for me.

Is there development support available or is it DIY?

I’ve done lots of job related courses on biodiversity, historic buildings and planning law updates. I’ve enjoyed being part of a regional management programme run by West Midlands Employers called ‘Accelerate,’ – it’s involved some days out over the last twelve months working with other councils. It’s been great for broadening my perspective and build my management skills too.

Staying put or moving on?

Staying put, the job offers everything I need at this point in my life, but I will move on, or upwards, when the time is right. Can you share a life lesson or specific career advice?

Do consider planning as a career if you want the chance to shape communities. Start unpaid if you have to – you never know where it will lead.

And finally, the best thing about working for the council is… the opportunity to influence how communities grow and develop, it makes me proud when I see the design improvements I’ve helped make happen.

Katherine, is an #EverydayHero, working to change and make better the lives of others and you can be an #EverydayHero too. Click here to find roles currently available within planning. 

Click here to read about more of our #EverydayHeroes