Meet Charlotte, an everyday hero working as a Senior Planning Officer at Bromsgrove and Reddich Councils.
Below Charlotte has shared her story to show what a career as a Planning Officer is like.
What's your role in a nutshell?
I make decisions on planning applications for new development – such as for new homes, extensions and industrial and agricultural buildings too. I check that they meet the criteria that’s set out in planning policies locally called Local Plans; these balance lots of things like design, environmental issues, employment and housing needs.
Was this a planned career or one you fell into?
Fell into! My degree is in Psychology, which is all about understanding people so it’s useful for lots of things. While at University I got a part time admin job at the council in Building Control and then after university I secured a fixed term contract in Planning Policy. planning. I really liked it so I pursued a full time role in Development Control and found I really enjoyed the planning applications work. I’m still working towards becoming “Chartered” (ie professionally qualified) through the RTPI, the Royal Town Planning Institute. As my degree is unrelated to planning, I need to have six years experience before I can apply for status.
Are you a doer, manager or leader?
Doer definitely. I look at applications, mostly on screen, using Google street view mapping, sometimes I get out to see the actual sites too. I have to balance all the issues and make recommendations to my manager. Some decisions get made by Councillors so again I write reports with my recommendations - for their local leadership.
What do you love best & love least about your job?
I love being kept on my toes; no two applications are the same. I enjoy problem solving and using my creativity to find the best solution. I love being able to shape the quality of building design through negotiation and strive to get the best result on the ground possible. That’s really important in listed and historic buildings where we want to keep the heritage, and in conservation areas too - so we don’t lose the special character of places.
What I love least is saying no to people, for example turning down a planning application in a rural area or the green belt where it’s not in line with planning policies. I also have to deal with people who are angry when an application is approved near where they live – it might meet the local policies but doesn’t mean they are always happy having something new built near them.
Do you need: Qualifications? University or apprenticeship or special skills?
Routes into planning are becoming far broader these days to attract the new, and much needed, people into the sector. Like me, with an unrelated degree it takes six years of on the job relevant experience before you can apply for RTPI status. Without a degree it’s possible too – but it takes ten years before you can apply for status and be qualified. It’s quite onerous, with a need to demonstrate how you meet the competencies, as well as essays on certain topics, at least there are no exams. Of course you can do a planning degree or post graduate degree as a more routine route in.
Routine or variety?
More variety than routine, I’d get bored with too much routine! Every planning application is different but it’s about weighing up all the factors that needs to be considered before a decision can be made – that takes experience.
Some of the routine is about reporting on our speed of decisions, we are required to let government know how quickly we turn around applications – for minor applications (simpler ones) ones it’s up to 8 weeks and major applications it’s 13. These standards have been there for many years.
There’s lots of change too. More working from home means offices are being converted to housing and these no longer need the same detail of planning application as before – the government are keen that we progress these applications quickly.
Pay check or calling?
Calling. I’ve always wanted to make a difference in my work and in planning I can do that. It’s about creating developments that are positive for people’s day to day life – balancing social, economic and environmental issues. Making sure new homes are well designed and in the right places, these days that means near to public transport routes, I think the Covid-19 pandemic has made people appreciate their local environment and sense of community even more – planning helps create these.
Is there development support available or is it DIY?
My work is all about on the job training and learning through my colleagues, especially those more experienced. I’m building my confidence all the time to make the best decisions I can. The whole service has undergone a full ‘transformation’ review – this meant looking at all aspects as to how best we deliver the service for the customer, so that’s been really valuable learning.
Staying put or moving on?
Staying put. I want to become Chartered soon, that’s a lot of work. I feel like I’m still learning and growing. But there are routes to promotion in planning when I am fully qualified.
Can you share a life lesson or specific career advice?
Give it a go. Try work experience and find out what it’s like. Give it your full commitment. Hard work is always rewarded. Don’t worry if it’s not your chosen subject. I thought I was going to go into a clinical route after my degree. But actually I get to see the difference I make to people every day in planning. I’m not sure I’d get that same immediate impact working in mental health for example.
Charlotte, 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.
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