Having joined Hobbs Parker Property Consultants six months ago, with nearly 30 years’ planning experience gained at Canterbury City Council and local authorities, Steve Davies gives an insight into the world on both sides of the planning fence.
Sitting between developers and landowners, and the members of the planning committee and general public, is not a job for the faint-hearted. It requires technical know-how of the ever-changing planning environment, the need to be politically savvy, and also take an impartial and balanced view on sensitive proposals.
Moving across from what some may think is the cossetted world of the public sector presents very different challenges to the criticisms often levelled at local planning authorities, says Steve.
“However my job, managing 15 planning officers, meant I was increasingly a manager of people and policy and distanced from the planning role. Today I’m directly involved in helping our clients navigate the planning system while at the same time I believe helping to improve many local communities.”
Many developers still view the planning officer as a necessary evil, and for many planning officers, the feeling is mutual. However, Steve is confident that attitudes across Kent are changing.
“All districts are different, many are becoming more open to discuss proposals, a recognition that a growing population demands more houses but also requires new employment opportunities. There still remain other authorities where local opposition groups punch above their weight, tending to delay development and increase costs, only for the applicant to rightly win on appeal setting relations with the local community back by years.”
Having spent his years in local government, Steve now has an almost sixth sense when it comes to identifying the issues on which a planning application can stand or fall.
He said: “The role of today’s planning adviser is about managing expectations of the developer, the politicians and general public. It’s also acting as an early warning system to stop issues arising that can undermine public and political support for the case for development.”
With planning resources stretched in many local authorities, securing the necessary permission often means there’s still a long way to go before a developer can put a spade in the ground. Unfortunately signing off the legal agreements and Section 106 contributions is too often delayed and can even undermine the prospect of time-sensitive development.
What about the future and the possible impact of Brexit?
Steve ended optimistically, saying: “With the demand for housing still outstripping supply, and the need to deliver still more commercial property, the future looks busy whether you’re a planning officer or planning consultant.”
“What we might need to do is speed up the process so we can make the most of the opportunities that come along for the benefit of Kent.”
- This article was first published in the Autumn 2016 edition of our quarterly newsletter Outlook