International planner: Gemma Conlon, New Zealand

Gemma Conlon [square]RTPI member Gemma Conlon talks about her work in New Zealand.

  • Name: Gemma Conlon
  • Job: Senior Planner
  • Employer: Timaru District Council
  • Location: South Cantebury, New Zealand

“The simple wish to create nice places to live and visit drew me to planning. I’m currently leading the consents team in Timaru at the district council. We liaise with developers to guide them on the best options for their proposals. My main focus is delivering a good environmental result whilst ensuring that the public and applicant achieve what they want. 

“I’m still Irish at heart and love a cup of tea – my Mam ships over Barry’s tea as it’s my favourite, but Timaru is now home, as I have married a man from the town. It is home to just under 30,000 people on the east coast of New Zealand’s South Island.

“Despite the town’s rich natural assets, including a beautiful beach, there are a number of issues that need attention. The main issue is the use of old buildings and their requirement to be strengthened in accordance with the Building Code. Since the Canterbury earthquakes in 2011, there has been a focus on ensuring buildings are safe. This has resulted in a lot of buildings being left derelict and a shift into new better-engineered buildings.

“The town centre has been in decline over recent years because of changes in spending patterns, such as online shopping, the shift of businesses to out-of-centre, purpose-built developments and the attractiveness of larger centres. It is important that the town centre remains the central hub of activity, so we are searching for ways to stop the decline. 

“Lastly, there is huge demand for rural lifestyle and living sites in our region. South Canterbury has transformed in recent years with the explosion of the dairy industry. Whilst good for the economy, it is putting a demand for growth in our rural areas that has not been planned for. 

“Although I’m a long way from Ireland, ongoing RTPI membership has helped me to keep abreast of what’s going on at home and allowed me to apply different strategies to the planning system and my job.”