If you are interested in development, regeneration and sustainability, this could be the career for you
Town planners, often known as planners, are involved in the management and development of cities, towns, villages and the countryside. They aim to balance the conflicting demands of housing, industrial development, agriculture, recreation, transport and the environment, in order to allow appropriate development to take place.
Regeneration within towns and cities forms an important part of planning and the often competing views of local businesses and communities are taken into account. In rural areas, planners must ensure that development is sustainable and that the right balance of development is achieved to preserve the countryside. Planners also aim to make a positive contribution towards tackling the effects of climate change.
As a planner you will:
- cover a broad area of work using many different skills;
- choose whether to specialise in a particular area, such as protecting the historical environment or urban design, or to work across a variety of areas;
- develop creative and original planning solutions to satisfy all parties;
- consult with stakeholders and other interested parties;
- negotiate with developers and other professionals, such as surveyors and architects;
- assess planning applications and monitor outcomes as necessary;
- research and design planning policies to guide development;
- research and analyse data to help inform strategic developments, such as increases in affordable housing provision;
- design layouts and draft design statements;
- use information technology systems such as CAD (computer-aided design) or GIS (geographical information systems);
- attend and present at planning boards, appeals and public inquiries;
- keep up to date with legislation associated with land use;
- promote environmental education and awareness;
- help disadvantaged groups express their opinions about planning issues and proposals, and visit sites to assess the effects of proposals on people or the environment;
- schedule available resources to meet planning targets;
- write reports, often of a complex nature, which make recommendations or explain detailed regulations. These reports may be for a range of groups, from borough councils to regional assemblies, or members of the public.
- Starting salaries for graduate or assistant planners are typically in the range of £18,000 to £25,000.
- With experience, in roles such as principal planner and team leader, salaries can be around £30,000 to £45,000.
- Chief planning officers, heads of departments and directors can earn salaries of over £55,000 and in some instances they can reach up to £100,000.
Members of the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) may earn higher salaries than non-members. Salaries vary depending on the size and location of the employing organisation and the sector.
Public sector employment often includes a generous holiday entitlement and pension scheme. Other benefits may include essential car user allowances, flexible working hours, home-based working and job share opportunities. The private sector has greater flexibility to offer performance-related pay, profit share and other additional benefits, although annual leave entitlement and pension schemes may be less generous than in the public sector.
Income data from the RTPI. Figures are intended as a guide only.
Working hours vary according to the sector and individual work levels, but you can generally expect a regular 9am to 5pm pattern. More senior positions require additional commitment. There may be considerable contact with the public, politicians and pressure groups, which may on occasion involve evening or weekend meetings.
Career breaks and job shares are possible.
What to expect
- The work is largely office-based, but you will spend some of your time making site visits, meeting clients and attending external meetings.
- Self-employment or freelance work as an independent consultant can be an option once you’ve gained enough experience. A specialism in a certain area of planning can help you stand out from competitors, although it is important to have a diverse client base to maximise opportunities for income.
- Jobs are available in most areas of the UK as every local authority employs planners. Planning consultancies are also located throughout the UK.
- Travel within a working day can form part of the job, but overnight absence from home is rarely necessary. Overseas work may be required occasionally with some consultancies.
Graduates from any degree subject can get into town planning although specific degrees in planning are available. To become a chartered town planner (which is advisable) you will need to complete a RTPI accredited degree, either at undergraduate or postgraduate level; completing either a combined qualification or a spatial qualification and a specialist qualification.
If you have not taken an RTPI-accredited undergraduate degree, you can still qualify for chartered status by completing an accredited postgraduate qualification. Graduates from a range of subjects are accepted onto postgraduate courses but the following subjects may be particularly relevant:
- architecture or landscape architecture/design;
- ecology and environment;
- politics, government or public administration;
- urban studies/built environment.
A list of accredited courses at both undergraduate and postgraduate level, along with further information, is available from RTPI Accredited Qualifications.
If you have an HND you could consider entry at planning technician level. With relevant experience, this route can lead to a professional qualification as a technical member of the RTPI.
You will need to have:
- creative thinking, problem-solving and analytical skills to come up with imaginative solutions to planning problems;
- flexibility, initiative and innovation in order to be responsive to changes and to come up with regeneration solutions;
- strong report-writing, communication and organisational skills for effective liaison with colleagues, developers, architects and possibly members of the public;
- the ability to work as part of a team and to manage an individual caseload;
- project-management skills;
- an aptitude for listening to, and negotiating with, a diverse range of people;
- the ability to work with accuracy and attention to detail, in order to ensure planning details are exact.
Pre-entry experience is desirable for planners. Examples of relevant experience include vacation/part-time work in the planning department of a local authority or consultancy, work shadowing a planner, experience of dealing with the public or administrative experience, especially in a local authority.
It is worthwhile becoming a student member of the RTPI as this gives you access to publications, their library and membership to networks and allows you to participate in the institute's activities.
Many town planners work in the public sector for a variety of employers including:
- local authorities (city, district, borough and county councils) in England, Scotland and Wales, in various departments such as regeneration, policy and development control, or the Northern Ireland planning service;
- the Planning Inspectorate - dealing with planning permission rejections and local development plans in England and Wales;
- Scottish Government
- Welsh Government
- organisations that have responsibility for protecting the natural environment including the Environment Agency (EA) and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA)
- The Highways Agency (HA)
- Homes and Communities Agency - involved in urban regeneration.
You may also work in the private sector for a firm of consultants, or when you have enough experience, establish yourself as an independent consultant. The RTPI offers information and support for doing this. A consultancy may specialise in a certain area of planning or it may include a variety of areas and involve work with other professionals, such as architects and surveyors. For contact details of consultancies, see the RTPI's Online Directory of Planning Consultants.
Other employers include water, gas and electricity companies and property builders that need help with assessing building locations and submitting planning permissions. Major charities and campaigning organisations also employ planners.
With experience you may work in colleges and universities as teachers or lecturers on planning-related courses.
Look for job vacancies at:
- Architects' Journal
- Local Government Jobs
- Opportunities: The Public Sector Media
- Planning Resource Jobs
The following recruitment agencies specialise in planning jobs:
If you have completed an accredited RTPI qualification and want to get chartered status you must take the RTPI Assessment of Professional Competence (APC).
Before you can apply for the APC, you must gain a minimum of 24 months (full-time equivalent) spatial planning experience at the relevant professional level, at least 12 months of which must be gained while a Licentiate Member of the Institute.
While you are a Licentiate member you will need to complete a log book for a minimum of one year (usually longer if you have no experience) and identify a suitable mentor for yourself. The log book will provide evidence of your experience as a planner and how you have developed, which is required for applying for the APC. Find out more at RTPI Chartered Town Planner.
The RTPI has a virtual learning portal, which allows you to study four modules online. For more information see RTPI Learn.
In the first few years of your career it's useful to join the RTPI Young Planners Network, which gives you access to training, social events and resources which are aimed at those in the early stage of their careers.
Career structures differ between employers, but after you have gained chartered status with the RTPI your chances of moving into senior positions will increase. Career progression may become quicker at this point.
In the public sector moving from assistant/graduate planner to senior planner can take three to five years. Further promotion may be to county planning officer. Senior managerial roles typically require a substantial amount of experience, possibly around ten years or more.
If you have geographical mobility, there are opportunities to move between local authorities. Movement between the private and public sector is also possible, for example between a local authority and a consultancy or charity. You may also decide to specialise in an area of planning such as:
- community engagement;
- sustainable development;
- urban design.
If you are interested in working abroad, see RTPI Working Abroad.