Town planners are responsible for ensuring that urban land use meets the economic and social needs of the people who live and work in that area. To do this, they have to balance the demands placed on housing, jobs, transport, leisure and the environment, and make certain that any development is sustainable.
Town planners work for local authorities, independent planning consultancies, government departments and private companies. They carry out site appraisals, draw up planning briefs, coordinate projects and enforce planning controls. Projects can vary in scope and size from large-scale strategic planning to local domestic household planning issues. Types of work can include:
Neighbourhood renewal – dealing with the redevelopment of housing and services within a particular district earmarked under an improvement scheme. This may include demolition, rebuilding and refurbishment of properties and amenities, and the redesign of street layout to improve public safety, control traffic and reduce crime.
Employment regeneration – working on the development of new job opportunities and encouraging new businesses into an area.
Building preservation and land conservation – ensuring that historical buildings, archaeological sites or buildings and land of local significance are retained and restored for the community.
Transport networks – making the most efficient use of existing road, rail and tram networks, forecasting future demand on those networks and considering new transport construction plans.
Consultancy - representing individuals, groups or companies, assisting in their planning applications or appeals, and negotiating on their behalf with relevant authorities.
An important aspect to the planning role is to collate and analyse the information required to arrive at a decision on proposals. This can include the use of surveying techniques, geographical information systems (GIS), computer-aided design work and use of data analysis software. Several scenarios may need to be investigated before advice is given to planning committees, government departments or individuals.
Town planners also commission feasibility studies and impact assessments to judge the potential effects of planning decisions on the social, economic and environmental make-up of an area.
Another key aspect to the role is liaison with local people and businesses through community organisations and public meetings to listen to the ideas and concerns about proposed changes. They also work under the local political priorities of the moment, so planners have to be skilled negotiators and communicators.
Enforcement action against building or development which has gone ahead without planning permission is also carried out by planning officers.
Planners work with other professionals, such as surveyors and engineers. Where specific expert knowledge is required, outside specialist consultants may be employed.
Town planners in local government work 35 to 40 hours a week with some evening meetings for senior staff. Part-time and flexi-time may be available.
Those working for a consultancy firm may have variable hours, particularly if the work is in different parts of the country or abroad.
Most town planners are office-based but may need to travel to attend meetings or visit sites.
To be a town planner you should:
The majority of town planners are employed by the government and local authorities, although opportunities for work in other areas are increasing. Some large firms such as house-builders, supermarkets and utility companies employ planners to deal with their planning work. Planners also work for environmental and conservation charities. There are opportunities to work abroad.
Career progression can include movement into senior planning roles, coordinating area or regional policy and strategy or working for specialist consultants.
Training and experience as a town planner can open up job opportunities in careers such as industrial promotion, environmental management, urban design, recreation management, market research, property development, resource management and data processing.
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