Ask me your
What were the main 'career decision' milestones in your life so far?
On completion of my construction studies (C.I.T) I decided to undertake a course in Town and Country Planning. During my studies I worked for a summer as a student planner, gaining valuble practical experience.
On qualifying as a Town Planner I sought work in the Local Authority system in order to develop my academic knowledge and give it practical application.
Within the Local Authority system I worked as a graduate planner, assistant planner, executive planner and currently as a senior executive planner. While working primarily in development managment (processing of planning application files and related work) I also was involved in some associated areas of research.
Who are the people who most influenced your career direction?
How did you go about getting your current job?
I was working as an executive planner with Cork County Council and the position of senior executive planner became vacant at the same local authority.
Following advertisment of the vacancy in national newspapers, I submitted an application via the Public Appointments Service. Following interview (approx. 45 minutes) I was offfered the position in writing.
Describe a typical day?
Working in development management one deals with the assessing of development applications and associated tasks. Hence, the primary focus is on visiting application sites, assessing the proposals and formulating assessment reports.
Associated tasks include discussions with senior managers, pre-planning consultations with public / their representatives, enforcement of planning regulations and briefing of elected members.
Development management is heavily regulated and has defined timescales to be adhered to. Hence, every week contains specific deadlines by which assessment reports must be submitted. It is critical that the assessments are to a high standard and on time. Overall the week is varied, and while challenging in terms of volumes and complexity, is always interesting due to this complexity.
What are the main tasks and responsibilities?
The main task of a senior executive planner in development management is to supervise the assessment of planning applications within an operational area. Currently I supervise three Area Planners ensuring that all assessments are completed on time and to a high standard. On-going quality control is important to ensure that standards are maintained at a high level in order that proper and sustainable planning advice is made available to senior managers. This requires regular review of assessment reports, in-house training, briefing staff on legislative changes, etc.
I also liaise directly with the relevant senior planner, senior managers, elected members, private sector professionals and members of the public with regard to a range of planning issues. I have a hands on role in assessing large scale development proposals, such as, housing estates, industrial complexes, windfarms, etc. The senior executive planner is the primary link between senior management and front line staff.
What are the main challenges?
Planning in general is heavily regulated and is based on a legal system approach. Hence, significant volumes of regulation, guidelines and case law need to be understood and applied to specific development proposals. Very often the stakes - both for the developer and member of the public are high - and hence it is critical to be fully informed as the case planner.
It is a significant challenge, particularly at times of high development activity, to keep one's team well informed of all relevant information and to ensure its appropriate use.
Within this context however, it is important for each planner to be able to 'think outside the box' and not to be rigid in the application of regulations. Development and planning is a subtle exercise that requires a case by case approach.
The job of town planner is dynamic and planners are often the first professionals to come into contact with new ideas that shall form the basis of future communities and settlements.
It is critical that planners have the ability to think in terms of future needs / challenges, and respond accordingly. It is also an opportunity to have a significant input into the future forms of such communities / settlements.
What's not so cool?
It is important to note that town planners have no statutory decision making powers. Hence, the role of town planner is only advisory. In many case a planner's advice may not be agreed with by senior management. Also, within the context of exciting new developments that planners are involved with, there is also much repetitive work that must be processed.
However, this is kept to a minimum where possible via the publication of advice documents, etc. Finally, a planner must serve many masters - public, managers, elected members. These competing forces can often stretch a planner's ability to serve everyone to a high standard.
What particular skills do you bring to your workplace?
Town planners assess and formulate large amounts of data, as well as making practical recommendations for implementation. Hence, it is important to be able to organise information and apply data appropriately.
It is also important to be able to marry competing data results in order to find practical solutions - 'see the bigger picture.' Communication is one of the cornerstones of planning and each planner should be able to communicate effectively what are often complex issues.
Practical knowledge and skills relating to such areas as construction, engineering, environment, architecture, heritage, etc. can also assist greatly as planning touches on a wide spectrum of related professions.
What subjects did you take in school and how have these influenced your career path?
As well as the core subjects, I studied technical drawing, chemistry, physics and french in school. Subject choice in school is not critical when thinking of a career in town planning, as many town planners come from different academic backgrounds. Planning touches on many different related professions and draws in a wide range of opinions / views.
Many students choose to take geography in school as a base to learn about the origins of planning and I would also recommend I.T based subjects. I.T is becoming increasingly more important in planning due to the formulation of data that allows for future planning.
After school I studied construction for three years and this I find has been of invaluable assistance to me in my planning work. If possible, I would recommend that anyone interested in pursuing a planning course would attempt to gain some practical experience in advance, e.g. construction work, student work with a planning department etc.
What is your education to date?
What aspects of your education have proven most important for your job?
During my planning studies I found the planning law module to be of particular assistance in my work. I also found the communication module to be critical.
Prior to my specific planning course, I found my studies relating to construction studies to be invaluable in practical terms when assessing development proposals. In addition, the summer of student work in the local authority system was a great help in my subsequent studies in planning as it gave me a practical insight into planning work.
What have been the most rewarding events in your career so far?
In development management, work systems are very important. While not glamorous they ensure that development proposals are processed efficiently and effectively - this is one of the repeated criticisms of the public planning system.
In conjunction with others, I have been involved in putting in place operating systems that have allowed / will allow for improvements in this regard to the benefit of the public. I was involved at the early stages of the Design Guide for rural housing which has become the template nationally for design in the countryside.
What personal qualities do you have that helps you in your career?
Does your job allow you to have a lifestyle you are happy with?
Working within the local authority system affords a reasonable quality of life. Undoubtedly there are opportunities to generate greater incomes when working within the private sector, but with that is likely to come additional personal pressures.
However, it is mistaken to assume that the working pace in the public service is slower or generally less pressured. If anything it is more complex and busier due to the many stakeholders involved, i.e managers, elected members, public, other professionals.
However, this can be an added attraction as opposed to an added difficulty. While public service work can encroach onto one's personal life, this is not the norm and hence both are quite compatible.
What advice would you give to someone considering this job?
I would suggest that if one is thinking of a career as a town planner as much practical experience as possible should be acquired. Even if work within a local authority planning department cannot be found, there is a growing number of private planning consultancies. Also, work in related professional fields such as architecture, engineering, construction, etc. is very useful.
Good communication skills, ability to work as part of a team, being open to new ideas and have a genuine interest in how and why communities / places are formed is a good basis for entering the planning profession.
Being a town planner comes with heavy responsibilities. Assessments and recommendations you make can have significant impacts on people's lives.
What are the three most important personal characteristics required for the job?
Have you undertaken, or do you plan to undertake any further training as part of your job?
Planners are constantly keeping up to date with new regulations, guidance documents and innovations. It is a dynamic profession that is based on research and practical application. Hence, one is kept busy studying at all times even outside of taking specific courses.
Durings one's planning career it is advisable to attend conferences and presentations that are ongoing in order to keep well informed. In addition, courses related to I.T / environmental studies etc. are always beneficial.
Education and Training?
Advice for Others?