A day in the life of a planner
Lucy Seymour-Bowdery is a senior planner in the strategic planning department at West Sussex County Council. She ensures that the council’s interests and infrastructure requirements are considered in planning policies in Chichester, Arun, and the South Downs National Park. Lucy’s also the national Young Planners’ representative on the Royal Town Planning Institute’s board of trustees. Here’s a typical day for her.
7:50am: I arrive at the office after a short train journey and pit stop at Costa to pick up an Earl Grey tea. My first task is to read emails and reply to any needing an urgent response. These could be from local planning officers requesting further information on a query about infrastructure, councillors needing clarification on a planning issue, or council colleagues requesting help with the planning process.
8:00am: My to-do list tells me my first priority is a response to a consultation on the draft of the local plan being drawn up by one of the planning authorities I work with. I’ve already sent the consultation out to over 50 officers and councillors for comment. Now I’m working through the whole draft plan to identify policies that I think West Sussex County Council should comment on.
8:30am: My colleague Caroline arrives and we discuss the latest news in the planning world. “Did you see the changes the government is proposing to make to the National Planning Policy Framework?” “How is that going to affect us?” Planning is both nationally and locally important, and it affects everyone’s lives in some way. Changes in government planning policy can have a signify cant effect on our jobs.
9:00am: I meet with the county council’s school place planning officers to discuss the primary school place requirements for several new housing sites in one of my areas. My role often requires me to jump across many local boundaries in the course of a single day.
10:00am: My colleague Guy, a transport planner, sends me an urgent request to review the latest updates to a transport study brief that will form part of the evidence base for a local plan in another of my areas. “Can you review it by the end of the day?” he asks. Any delays will hold up the process of finding consultants to carry out the study, so I re-assess my priorities for the day. Then I get back to the local plan policies I started reviewing at the start of the day.
12:00pm: I pop out to grab a salmon salad. It’s a power walk through Chichester which gives me a chance to stretch my legs. I spend the rest of my lunch break corresponding with the RTPI’s South Coast Young Planners’ Network. We hosted the national Young Planners’ Conference in 2015 and this has inspired many new members to join the group.
1:00pm: I review the transport study brief as requested and highlight the planning implications. It’s important that these studies are not too technical as they are often prepared by technical experts who are very involved in the detail. Part of my job is to make sure non-specialists can understand the planning process and the planning decisions that their elected representatives make on their behalf. I discuss my comments with Guy and he adds them to our response.
2:15pm: Just time for an Earl Grey and a biscuit from the office canteen before reading papers for my next meeting. My team manager Darryl asks me to attend a meeting in Worthing next week with planning policy managers from the Coastal West Sussex and Greater Brighton area to discuss the local joint planning strategy. I enjoy this work as it allows me to become involved in ‘larger than local’ planning.
3:00pm: In our monthly planning and transport policy team meeting, we’re updated on the ‘Three Southern Counties’ devolution bid. This is a bid by East Sussex, West Sussex and Surrey County Councils to jointly take over some powers from central government, such as speeding up housing development and taking greater control over roads and rail. Planning could be an important element of this proposal, so we need to keep on top of what’s happening.
4:00pm: I have an informal catch-up with a county councillor ahead of a formal meeting later in the week. Elected councillors may have expectations that are not consistent with planning policy and guidance – my role is to set out the legislation and technical evidence, and to explain the scope of what we can achieve through the planning system. Planning is a legal process and all planning decisions have to comply with requirements set out in laws such as the Localism Act 2011 and guidance such as the National Planning Policy Framework. Then it’s back to the local plan consultation response – nearly done!
5:25pm: All finished, so I update my to-do list to focus on my priorities for tomorrow. Then I head home – where I can read latest edition of the RTPI’s The Planner magazine!