[This article was originally printed in Planning Magazine, February 2008]
This month I find myself writing about the shortage of planners, the skills they bring and their contribution to shaping communities. I feel I have been here a number of times before – yet, what has changed since Egan? Yes, there are more planners and planning schools are oversubscribed, planning is again becoming a profession to be proud of, one that young people want to join – all of which is fantastic. But there is still a shortage of the skills that planners have in abundance – or do they?
My view, partial and of the public sector only, is that those skills that planners pride themselves on having – community engagement, strategic thinking, partnership working, negotiation, communication – are actually hard to find. In significant numbers of authorities, planners are struggling to get what they consider to be the ‘day job’ done. The sorts of activities for which these generic skills are required are seen to be an ‘extra’; the additional requests from the corporate centre, a burden; and the work to get the partners to understand what we do is too difficult. It is also clear that planners don’t always know what they don’t know – sometimes thinking they have all the skills they need because they haven’t really understood what the task involves.
But these generic skills are essential to doing the work of spatial planning. This is our job and will be more so into the future. What is considered to be additional to the day job is actually the day job. The need to engage with other people, services, organisations is all part of the work that planners are now required to do. To communicate effectively, to negotiate for the community, to value the contribution of partners is what the work of a spatial planner is about. Along with the planning system the work of the planner has changed – and the skills that go with that are also changing. Planners need to assess their own skills set, work out where there are gaps, find ways of developing themselves. Only by doing this will planners stay relevant and a key contributor to shaping places.
If you would like to contribute to this debate the CLG Select Committee is undertaking an enquiry into planning skills, see: http://www.parliament.uk/clgcom.