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Case study: planner

Development of a planner

Stacey Robins has been fascinated by planning since, as a sixth former studying geography, he became interested in some controversial developments nearby.

He went on to study planning at degree and postgraduate level at Sheffield University while taking on vacation and voluntary work which prepared him well to get jobs afterwards. Now 28, he is senior planning officer for the borough council in Cheltenham which has both a historic town centre and a strikingly ultra-modern GCHQ building.

In Cheltenham, as elsewhere, the council has a plan for land use. Building proposals, whether new supermarkets or extensions to semis, are judged against it. Although planners also work in the private sector, Stacey made a definite decision to work for a council. ‘In a local authority it’s about ethics and defending what is good for an area or site. In private sector consultancies, they promote the interests of their clients.’

In the development control work of the council planning department, each officer is allocated a caseload usually of 35-40 applications for planning permission at any time to process and determine.

As a senior officer, Stacey’s workload includes proposals for large retail, employment and housing developments. ‘In addition, I have applications for conservatories and fences. The variety is a real attraction to the work: something different each time.’

Site visits are another positive aspect, breaking up the office work. ‘To see things in action and getting built gives you a very good perspective of what planning is all about.’

There is much contact with the public, both applicants and other interested parties who must be consulted. ‘I would say that diplomacy and/or a thick skin are essential - mind you I think I have the latter with a girl’s name!’

The public contact is both the best and the worst part of Stacey’s job. ‘If you refuse someone’s application for an extension (for good reason of course) they can get aggressive as it directly impacts on their life. But a successful case can be extremely rewarding. I have received a few thankyou cards from people which is great and makes things worthwhile.

‘In one case I refused an extension to a house as the design was poor and it would have damaged the character of the conservation area. Following the refusal, I helped the applicant shape the revised plan and the outcome was better for them and the area generally. I had a card from them which thanked me for stopping them from ruining their house.’

Pleasing everyone when there are objectors to an application is most difficult. Nevertheless Stacey finds the job very rewarding. ‘Cheltenham is an area with quite significant development pressures. Hopefully I can make a difference and have a say in how the built environment is changed.’

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