Falling into planning: How four planners found their profession
Liane Hartley is founder of Urbanistas and director of both Mend, a placemaking consultancy, and Source, an ethical employment and recruitment agency
Geography was my passion at school. Luckily, my teachers saw my potential and encouraged me to apply for Oxford University. I got lost en route to the interview at St Anne’s College – not a great start for a geography student! But I got in and loved it, and I developed a passion for cities.
"Then I started Mend to promote collaborative and creative approaches to planning, which are vital for social justice and the right to the city"
My first job was in Enfield Council’s planning department, but I decided I wanted to work for Arup because I admired the founder’s vision for sustainability. After randomly turning up there with my CV one day, I was offered a filing clerk job in their economics and planning team. They recognised my potential, involved me in projects, and kindly sponsored my town planning MPhil at the Bartlett School.
Then I started Mend to promote collaborative and creative approaches to planning, which are vital for social justice and the right to the city.
In 1999 I was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome. I was nervous about it when I was younger but now embrace the positive qualities it brings to a career as a town planner. I’m a visual learner, with a photographic memory, a bit literal but with an eye for detail.
From the age of six, I have loved drawing maps. At 12, I did a careers test and the results were conclusive; town planner or tram driver. So, town planning it was. Following a tumultuous time at school, I blossomed in the sixth form and at the University of Sheffield, where I studied urban studies and planning.
"I love planning for its wide-ranging impacts and how it unlocks the potential of our places and spaces, engaging with people in the process"
While there, I also worked for North East Lincolnshire Council on its environmental internship scheme. After graduation, I joined RPS, gaining significant private sector experience. In April 2014 I moved to P&DG and I’ve been progressing with the company ever since. I’m grateful for successive employers’ understanding of my abilities and for their knowledge, which informs my professional development.
"I love planning for its wide-ranging impacts and how it unlocks the potential of our places and spaces, engaging with people in the process."
The profession is a great fit for me.
Anna Rose MRTPI is head of the Planning Advisory Service
I went to a comprehensive school in Daventry, where the careers advice wasn’t exactly aspirational.
I originally wanted to be a fashion designer as I was arty, but teachers looked at me as if to say, "You realise that’s never going to happen, don’t you?"
I moved to sixth-form college to do A-levels in English, art and geography. Human geography formed a real social conscience in me. Neither of my parents worked – I’m from a disadvantaged background. My dad had progressive MS and there was no money. If I was going to succeed, it had to be through my own efforts.
"I originally wanted to be a fashion designer as I was arty, but teachers looked at me as if to say, 'You realise that’s never going to happen, don’t you?'"
Any degree needed to be practical and lead to a job afterwards. Town planning combined my love of design with a desire to improve life for others, so I studied planning at Sheffield Hallam.
My first job was in the National Farmers Union planning team. I did my master’s while I was there – I was eight months’ pregnant when I wrote my thesis. My light-bulb moment came when I started working in local government. I made the connection between planning and improving people’s lives. It was then I knew that it was the right career for me.
Abraham Laker MRTPI is an associate director at RPS Built & Natural Environment
I wouldn’t have gone into planning had I not chatted by chance to a great supply design and technology teacher during my GCSEs. At secondary school in West London, the career choices were very traditional.
"I loved design and social issues, so my teacher asked if I had thought of urban design and planning – I hadn’t even heard of them."
But it was a perfect career choice.
"I loved design and social issues, so my teacher asked if I had thought of urban design and planning – I hadn’t even heard of them"
After studying business studies, sociology and politics at A-level, I went to the University of Manchester to study town and country planning. I graduated during the 2008 downturn. Being an ambitious young planner, I applied for a senior planner role at the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. The head of planning gave me seven months’ work experience in the policy team instead. It was a great time to work there – the council was producing its local development framework and I got involved.
After gaining a master’s in urban and regional planning from Westminster University, I worked as a land referencer for Mouchel for two years and then moved to Capita in Chelmsford as a senior planner, where I passed my APC first time. I moved back to London to work with Ingleton Wood as a senior planner. I’m now at RPS.
Getting into planning
It’s not necessarily a career goal that someone might have as a 13-year-old. It's likely that even at 18, most undergraduates are unaware of planning as a potential profession. What can be done to increase awareness of planning as a career?
At secondary level, RTPI Ambassadors visit schools to talk about planning as a career. For university students, the RTPI offers two bursary schemes – the RTPI Trust Bursary for students with a disability or from a BAME background; and the Future Planners Bursary for postgraduates.
Beyond academia, there are two competency-based routes to chartered RTPI membership: apprenticeships and Experienced Practitioner Assessment of Professional Competence.
But Abraham Laker says planning must capture imaginations early. “From primary school onwards, planning needs to be presented as an exciting career choice.”
Serena Ralston is a freelance journalist specialising in planning and the built environment
Image credit | iStock