United Kingdom

United Kingdom

1. What you need to know about being a planner in the UK

This page is designed to allow you to quickly find out all the basics of the UK planning system and what a Town Planner’s job is within that system.

2. The UK planning system

Basic Definition

In essence the Planning systems within Commonwealth Countries share many similarities.

Town & Country Planning in the UK is the structured regulation and development of cities, land with particular guidance derived from the economic, social, environmental and community issues.
The 2004 "Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act"

The biggest change in recent times to the UK Planning system came into effect at the beginning of 2004 as a result of a planning green paper. The result was the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act.

Implementation of the new Act began in September 2004 and the Minister for Housing and Planning has indicated that the provisions for the new Act will come into effect from September 2004 with many provisions being implemented throughout 2005.

By passing the Act, the UK government acknowledged deficiencies in the old planning act. This most recent re-vamp of planning in the UK aims to facilitate more and better interaction between all levels.

Basically, the Act indicated that the overseer is the Secretary of State (SoS). Underneath this position were the Regional Planning Boards (RPB’s) which looked after Regional Spatial Strategies. Within each Region are Local Planning Authorities (LPA’s) such as: District Councils, County Councils, Metropolitan District Councils, National Park Authorities and Roads Authorities.

However, following the recent change of government, the new administration has announced sweeping changes to the planning system. The fundamental aspect of the new system will be to move away from a top down approach to a bottom up system known as the Localism agenda, or Open Source Planning. The Conservatives Green Paper highlights the proposals

Currently, the coalition and the Department of Communities and Local Government have not announced detailed measures of how the new system will be implemented, however regional planning boards have already been scrapped and Regional Spatial Strategies are likely to follow. The planning minister Eric Pickles has described the reforms as not a new system, but a naked powershift from the state to the people.

In addition to planning consultancies the Local Planning Authorities (LPA's) are major employers of Australian’s in the UK.

UPDATE - 4 April 2012, UK Planning Reforms

Last week marked a considerable change in the planning world for those of us in the UK development industry. On 27 March, the government published its National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) which had immediate affect, prompting a flurry of last minute changes to decision notices issued by planning authorities across the country.
The main purpose behind the NPPF is to consolidate 44 separate guidance documents (known as Planning Policy Statements or PPSs) into one national strategic policy document - it reduces over 1,300 pages of guidance to 50. The view of the conservative-led government is that there should be broad policy guidance at a national level but that detailed guidance should be left to local councils as it is local communities who should determine how development is planned and managed. This aligns with the Localism agenda which is aimed at giving greater powers to local communities and moving away from the 'top down' approach to planning.

An aspect of the NPPF which has generated significant debate has been the inclusion of a 'presumption in favour of sustainable development' which means, in effect, if a proposed development is in conformity with the local plan, it should be approved. Many planners will consider that this is no different to the current system whereby applications are approved unless material considerations dictate otherwise, however, other parts of the community claim this new presumption will be a developer's charter. It is likely that this aspect of the framework will be tested at appeal but, until then, planners will no doubt appreciate having one document to refer to rather than 44.

For planners in London, last week was also a busy time as developer's sought to get decisions made on applications before the Mayoral Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) came into effect. The CIL has been brought in by the Mayor Boris Johnson to help pay for London's largest transport infrastructure project since the 1977 Jubilee line. Crossrail is the biggest engineering project in Europe and will connect 37 stations, including Heathrow airport and Maidenhead in the west with the financial district of Canary Wharf in the east as well as beyond.
Previously, financial contributions to mitigate against the impacts of the development were payable and provision of on-site affordable housing for residential-led schemes, however, since the financial crash, these planning obligations have been negotiated based on viability arguments. The difference with CIL, is that it is a levy and therefore not negotiable - there will simply be an informative on a decision notice advising that cash is owing. Given the continued sluggishness of the UK economy, many local authorities are concerned that the CIL will consume all the contributions leaving nothing left for local infrastructure and affordable housing. Again, this will likely be tested once applications start going through the system, but it might also encourage councils to speed up their policy preparation and bring in their own CIL charging regime.
So all change in the UK for planning. Whilst the economy remains stubbornly gloomy, spring is on the way and celebrations in 2012 include both the Queen's Jubilee and the London Olympics, meaning it is a year for celebration regardless.

Gordon Adams
Chair, PIA UK Branch
Team Leader - Major Applications, London Borough of Southwark

Further reading

3. The UK planning profession

The RTPI - Royal Town Planning Institute

The RTPI is a membership organisation and a registered charity. It is similar in its aims and function to PIA.

It is not a requirement to join the RTPI to successfully secure a planning position in the UK. Though some jobs (especially senior positions) may request that the candidate be a member of, or “working towards membership of the Royal Town Planning Institute.”

A special arrangement exists for full corporate members of the Planning Institute of Australia (PIA) to apply for Chartered Membership of the RTPI. In order to qualify, you must successfully complete the distance learning Certificate in UK Planning Law and Practice offered by Leeds Metropolitan University.

Further information about qualifications and membership requirements for the RTPI are published on the RTPI website.

4. Where in the UK are the jobs?

Basic titles and job descriptions

Planners to work in development management (statutory planning) are in the highest demand in the UK. Policy (strategic planning), Transport and Environmental Planners are also in high demand. Consultant Planners and Enforcement Officers are also in demand although you may need to be a bit more flexible on location to gain employment quickly. Job opportunities in planning are far greater when you have at least 1 and ideal 2 years or more of relevant experience.

Many London Borough’s and County Councils to the North, South East and South West of London are big employers of British and travelling planners alike. Many County Councils offer very different opportunities to London not only in terms of your career but lifestyle and UK experience. In addition to London, cities like Bristol, Manchester and Birmingham are worth considering.

If you are planning to go to the UK signup to the Planning Resource .

Past Events

World Town Planning Day 2011 - Going Public Spaces in Our Communities

With the world population exceeding the seven billion mark, there is increasing pressure to secure, create and improve the quality of public spaces for the benefit of our existing and future communities. The role of public spaces in global cities such London is ever more important and under increasing pressure from more intensive use.
For this year’s World Town Planning Day, the branches of the RTPI London, NZPI UK and PIA UK organised a successful evening seminar at City Hall to discuss this year’s theme ‘Going Public - Spaces in our Communities'. The significance of this debate was confirmed by record participation levels (over 100 private and public sector planning professionals).

The key speakers for this year’s discussion included:
o Neil Fourie (Team Leader on Sustainable Development in Planning, Housing and Construction, DEFRA), who initiated the discussion by providing a national perspective on the planning of green infrastructure in the context of the incoming National Planning Policy Framework.

o Colin Wilson (Senior Manager, Planning Decisions Unit, Greater London Authority) provided a case study of the Vauxhall Nine Elms Opportunity Area Planning Framework, which demonstrates how local authorities’ can set a forward thinking vision for securing quality open space that developers will need respond to in their design of their schemes.

o Rob Aspland (Director of Landscape Architecture, LDA Design) focused on public space design in the context of the mounting global pressures of rapid urbanisation, climate change and economic change that are influencing how we deliver quality public spaces.

o Kathryn Firth (Chief of Design, Olympic Park Legacy Company) provided an area study of the Olympic Park Legacy Phase, highlighting the important transformation of the site post-games to provide a quality interactive open space that connects with the existing neighbourhoods and serves the needs of the new residential communities.

The evening concluded with a lively Q& A discussion and professional networking, essentially capturing the essence of World Town Planning Day, which is to encourage the global discussion of environmental and urban issues that are affecting the liveability of our urban environment.

An event with David Higgins, CEO of the Olympic Delivery Authority
27th January 2009

An event with John Burton, Development Director of Westfield Europe
03 October 2007