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Opinion: Planning - a career to be nurtured

Written by: Steve Quartermain
Published on: 21 May 2019

steve Quartermain  [square]Why is a planning career worthwhile? Because it makes a positive difference to people's lives, says England's chief planner Steve Quartermain. 

When I spoke at the RTPI’s Young Planner Conference last year I found myself musing on why I had become a planner, and why it was that I had enjoyed my career so much.

As I spoke to the young planners I recounted the 1992 Audit Commission report wherein it candidly concludes that the work of planners is rarely praised and indeed that “popularity is probably an unachievable objective for planners” (para 2 if you want to look it up).

But I countered this with a reference from the Rt Hon John Burns MP, who said in introducing the 1909 Housing and Planning Act that its purpose was “to secure the home healthy, the house beautiful, the town pleasant, the city dignified and the suburb salubrious”.

Over time the language may have changed, but the underlying message still stands true. I believe that the planning profession makes a positive difference to people’s lives and there is huge satisfaction to be gained from achieving this.

Popularity is not a good measure of achievement; as a planner you use your skills to mediate between competing views and uses, resolve competing ambitions, and help to create well-designed solutions. The legacy of the work of planners is all around us and there are many great examples of what has – and can be – achieved.

A career in planning is something to nurture, every day is a learning day, but I do want to stress that it is not just about being competent; it is as much about having the confidence to know that your professional training enables you to make the judgements needed. As chief planner, I attend many events and I am often asked what “I think the answer is“ to a variety of planning issues, my response is always to encourage planners to be confident and realise that they are well able to reach such conclusions themselves. One of the things that has driven my career was the desire to be the one who ‘decided’, and of course it is never that simple, but it helps if you are confident in your ability to plan; and I think all planners should aspire to that ambition.

Planning is a wonderful career; I want to see the profession become more diverse to better reflect the communities we plan for and I want to see the profession respected for its role and celebrated for its achievements. I hope you share this vision too.

Steve Quartermain CBE is chief planner for England

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