Chief Planners of Tomorrow

The City of Edinburgh Council’s Planning Service has Learning Partner status with the Royal Town Planning Institute.  This commits us to a programme of continuous training and development to support planning officers, elected members and community groups. 

In 2019, we won the Learning Partner Award for the best programme in the UK.

It is important to provide learning opportunities for young planners.  For the second successive year, our Chief Planning Officer was shadowed as part of a national initiative.

Lucy Sumner MRTPI, from Perth and Kinross Council writes about her experience:

Lucy is the Development Contributions Officer for Perth and Kinross Council, where she took up post earlier this year following her time with Aberdeen City Council’s Local Development Plan team. Lucy is based in Perth and is also involved with the RTPI East of Scotland Chapter. You can find her on LinkedIn and Twitter, @sumnernotsummer

In what feels like the distant past of 2019, I applied for the Royal Town Planning Institute’s (RTPI) Chief Planners of Tomorrow initiative and I was delighted to be successfully paired with David Leslie at City of Edinburgh Council for the experience in 2020.

The Chief Planners of Tomorrow initiative allows a young planner the opportunity to spend some time shadowing a Chief Planner for the day. Usually this would take place in-person, attending meetings and visiting the Council’s offices, however like most things throughout 2020 David and I had to adapt and find alternative ways to share this experience. We were able to benefit from the virtual platform so many of us have become acquainted with this year; allowing us to tailor the programme more naturally to our schedules.

The role of a Chief Planner is very diverse, and David was keen to try and show me as much as possible from his day-to-day tasks over the course of the experience. David and I initially discussed our expectations of the opportunity, and he was then able to prepare a programme covering these key learning areas. These included; Strategic Management Issues, Political Awareness, and Service Planning.

Strategic Management Issues

David introduced me to service managers for Development Management and Development Planning, David Givan and Iain McFarlane. We discussed their roles, their career pathways and some of the key responsibilities involved with their roles. I learned about their experience as managers during a global pandemic, including some of the challenges with working remotely and how this affects day-to-day tasks, performance, and morale.

Political Awareness

After watching one of the Council’s publicly webcast Development Management Sub-Committee meetings, David extended an opportunity to attend the weekly meeting between service managers and the Convenor and Vice-Convenor. I therefore had the pleasure of meeting the Councillors Neil Gardiner and Maureen Child.

As a Planner I have held roles in private sector with a housebuilder and as a consultant, and in public sector as a Council officer, so my interaction with Elected Members has usually revolved around Planning Committees, so this was a hugely valuable experience in seeing how Committee meetings are briefed and prepared for … something like a backstage pass! Observing this meeting helped me understand my own role better too; for example, how certain actions arise ahead of Committees, or why briefing notes are requested. This gave some context as to how things progress and the relationship between management and the Convenors.

Service Planning

David arranged for a discussion about the Service Improvement Plan. Again, as an officer, this was really beneficial to learn about as sometimes you feel as though your role is your job title – but being part of a team, a service, an organisation means you are always part of a wider picture too. It can be quite motivating to work toward an overarching goal in this way and uphold the organisation’s objectives through your own work. I really enjoyed hearing about how the Service nurtures leadership and skills, and the ‘bottom up’ approach in service planning.

The experience has been an interesting insight into the varied duties and responsibilities of a Chief Planner. When David and I met for our concluding meeting at the end of the experience he asked me if I ever wanted to be a Chief Planner – I won’t share my answer here – but we went on to have a nice discussion about our choices in life and reflecting on opportunities and where they’ve led us, which is really encouraging. 

In summary, I feel lucky to have been able to take advantage of the RTPI’s Chief Planners of Tomorrow initiative. I feel it is pertinent to me as a young planner progressing in my career, and I don’t think it could have come at a better time during the unprecedented events of 2020; reflecting on other local authority practices and sharing skills and opportunities at a time like this really embodies the spirit of the RTPI, and what I feel we should continue to be promoting as a planning profession.

I hope that the initiative proves equally rewarding to Chief Planners; understanding the needs of young planners within their service right now, or in future, and cultivating leadership potential from their team.

I would like to thank all those I had the opportunity to meet with during this experience for their time and insight. Finally, I extend my sincerest thanks to David Leslie for making this possible, I greatly appreciate your enthusiasm and mentorship through this time.

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