Bring the joy back into being a Planning Officer

I have read with great sadness the article by Catrional Riddel in Planning Resource about the rock bottom morale for Local Authority Planners and Sam Stafford’s 50 Shades of Planning blog that supports this with personal experiences. In my role at PAS I see the stress that Planners are being put under and it is very worrying for the health of our wonderful band of Planning professionals and the future of Planning. Who would want to come into the profession when you get overworked, underpaid and abused across social media?

Well I want to try and convince you all that Planning is actually a wonderful profession. However I am going to do it from a rather unusual angle by relating it to being a ultra marathon runner. Keep reading as this will make sense soon…

As a head of Development Management at a big urban unitary authority I took up ultra marathon running partly to cope with the stress of the work. The theory being that I would be too exhausted to worry about the next Planning Committee agenda. However I soon began to realise that the disciplines for both are not so different – let me explain using Development Management as an example but it can equally apply to other areas of the Planning profession.

Breaking down a seemingly impossible task – when you run very long distances the task seems impossible. How can a mere mortal run for 100km or 100 miles without stopping? Well you don’t think of it like that. You aim for the next rest station in 5 miles, have a bit to eat and drink then reset for the next 5 miles, then do the same again and again until you finish. As a Development Management officer / manager you have a ridiculously high workload so you need to be ultra organised. What do you need to do today? What can wait? What needs to be pushed along so that it doesn’t cause a panic in a week’s time. Focus on what you can achieve today before you reach your next rest station and don’t panic that the journey seems impossible. Remember to rest at the end of the day so that you are ready for the next stage of your Planning journey otherwise you won’t complete your ultra marathon.

Visual the end point – when I am running an ultra marathon I always visualise crossing the finishing line or having a cold beer with a medal round my neck. This helps me work through the here and now pain and allows me to remember why I am out in the cold and wet when others are cosying up to the TV. As a Planner visualising the end point is easy because an applicant sends you the pretty visual and you can genuinely change a place for the better. You may want to visualise a tricky house extension being built with the design improvements that you made happen. You may want to visualise a new housing development full of families creating lives for themselves because of your hard work to get the application to approval. Not many people can visualise success so easily.

Be proud of what you have achieved rather than thinking of the uncertainties of what is to come – I always think about the miles I have run, rather than the miles I have still to run because I know I will never have to run those miles again in that race. This is a massive motivator for me. If you have a planning application coming to Planning Committee you will have done a lot of hard work to get you there. Stop, pause, reflect and be proud of your achievements so far. Planning Committee is an uncertain place and a decision can go against an officer recommendation for all sorts of reasons. If you have done a professional job you will come over as confident and convincing. If Members have a different view then that is for them and you should never take it personally.

Pain is temporary – I can never run an ultra marathon without having low points. I have even been known to cry with pain and exhaustion. However as soon as I have finished a race I want to do another. People are often horrible to you particularly in Development Management. Applicants think you are on the objectors’ side, objectors think you are in the hands of developers. However it is not about you, it is about the Planning situation that sometimes brings out the worse in people. How many times have you come across an objector who tells you that if you approve an application their lives will be ruined? How many times does that really happen? People over-react because they can and in reality you have probably found a good middle ground because that is what makes you a great Planner.

Finally collect the bling – I love looking at medals that remind me of the races I have run. I don’t remember the bad parts, I just remember the joy of taking myself out of my comfort zone and achieving something I am proud of. As a Planner we create better places, improve the lives of our communities and generate jobs for present and future generations. Who else can say that about their jobs. Your bling is a place where people want to live, work and enjoy themselves.

Be proud to be a Local Authority Planner…… being an ultra marathon runner is optional.  #BeNiceToPlanners

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2 thoughts on “Bring the joy back into being a Planning Officer

  1. Thanks Pete. That’s great. I hope many DM Planners get to read this to remind them of the positive real world impact their hard work has. The reason why we do this job.

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