Select Committee on Communities and Local Government Committee Eleventh Report

2  The labour gap

Respondents to our public consultation cited low salary, poor public image, low status and lack of awareness in schools as the main reasons for shortages in the supply of planners.—the Egan Review, 2004.[14]

12.  Around 17,000 people work as planners in the public sector in England and Wales, and when private sector planners, such as those working for planning or design consultancies, are added, the total workforce is around 30,000.[15] In 2005, local authorities in England and Wales posted 2,201 vacancies for planning and building control posts.[16] The ASC has estimated that public sector planning departments face a 46 per cent labour shortage by 2012, although the ASC has also told us that Government targets developed since that estimate was made, including the building of 3 million homes by 2020, may widen the gap even further and perhaps to as much as 80 per cent.[17] The situation in the private sector is less severe, but the ASC estimates a 15 to 20 per cent labour shortage there, too, by 2012.[18]

13.  The number of people entering the profession has been rising; qualified planners in the workforce rose from 14,000 in 2001 to 21,000 in 2007.[19] The Audit Commission believes that that rate of increase is not enough to keep up with rising demand for planning services. The Government accepts that there "are supply and retention problems across the planning industry with high turnovers in many posts and many vacant posts."[20]

14.  The Environment Agency, for example, which as a statutory planning consultee, employs 250 planners to scrutinise about 50,000 applications a year, is "currently experiencing a high turnover of planning staff (18.5% over the past year) and 13.5% of our planning posts are currently vacant."[21] And the problem is worsening: in 2003, some 66 per cent of London's boroughs reported difficulties recruiting planning staff; by 2005, that figure had risen to 93 per cent.[22] Nationally, some 66 per cent of local authorities reported similar difficulties in 2005, a seven percentage point rise on the 2004 figure.[23] According to the ASC, at September 2006 planning authorities had an average of 29 posts in development control of which four were vacant, and many more filled by temporary staff.[24]

15.  The Government points out that this "shortage of planning capacity is historically rooted and stems from the under investment during the 1980s and early 1990s by both central and local government."[25] The shortage of planners was identified as long ago as the late 1990s but has been allowed to continue to worsen to its present condition.


16.  The Government has no comprehensive data on the extent of labour shortages within planning and the wider sustainable communities workforce, making it impossible to judge precisely what the shortages are. There is a need for specific data on recruitment patterns both in local government and the private sector, and on the movement of staff between the two sectors. It is regrettable that since the Manpower Services Commission stopped collecting such data no Government agency has been made responsible for doing so. The 46 per cent gap by 2012 estimated by the ASC gives some indication of the overall scale of the problem, but the ASC is itself re-conducting the research on which that figure was based to take full account of changes likely to result from the 2007 Comprehensive Spending Review settlement and the Government's latest house-building targets. It also believes that early indications are that these factors are more likely to widen than narrow the gap. [26]

17.  The Government announced an intention to "measure vacancy rates for professional planners in local government capacity" on the basis of work done by the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA). However, when CIPFA ceased to measure the rates, the Government chose not to set up a new survey "which would have been a new burden on local authorities".[27] We recommend that Communities and Local Government produce long-term annual assessments and analyses of the numbers of people employed in planning and other key sustainable communities professions and the labour shortages currently being suffered and likely to arise. The Homes and Communities Agency should be responsible for these surveys.

Demand side factors


18.  The Egan review noted that pay was often cited as one reason why it was difficult to fill posts in core sustainable communities professions, particularly in local authority planning and regeneration departments.[28] Professor Peter Roberts OBE, chair of the ASC, also believed that public sector salaries were a significant recruitment issue.[29] Tim Edmundson, head of the University of Westminster's Urban Development and Regeneration Department, and a specialist on planning in London, notes that a number of local authorities have introduced pay supplements and "golden handshakes or handcuffs" to attract and retain staff.[30] The local government workforce strategy survey for 2006 reported that a quarter of authorities offer "market supplements" on wages for planners.[31] The Planning Advisory Service (PAS) and IDeA suggest that changes in the general status of planning, including re-evaluation of job grades with consequent downward impacts on pay, have led planners to leave the public sector. They also note that the latest local government pay and workforce survey "indicates that local authorities continue to experience recruitment and retention problems with planners."[32]

19.  Sir John Egan and Professor Roberts each also point out, however, that salary levels alone rarely determine career choices.[33] "Perceptions about corporate culture, employment prospects and working conditions also influence choices," noted the Egan review.[34] Among the factors affecting recruitment and retention to local authority planning departments are where they are, what they do, and who does what. The ASC's Mind the Skills Gap report raised the irony that the very bodies charged with 'place shaping'—creating sustainable communities where people want to live—are often themselves unattractive to new graduates. Three broad reasons are given for this. First, councils are quite simply constrained by their geographical location: "Local authorities are particularly susceptible to being tied to a particular location, some of which are not attractive to high quality staff."[35] Secondly, local authority planning is not always seen as interesting:

Some organisations, particularly the Regional Development Agencies (RDAs) and local authorities, face difficulties due to the nature of their organisations and locations. Information collected through […] case studies suggest that regeneration-focused organisations have less trouble recruiting as the work is seen by professionals as 'topical', 'green' and 'sexy' compared with the more traditional professions.[36]

Thirdly, the 'missing generation' identified above is a problem not just for planning departments but for local government in general: "the age profile of staff in the public sector is markedly older than the private sector."[37]

20.  The absence of officers in their 30s and 40s, with the ability to fill the most senior posts in the near future is one side of that coin; the less obvious side is that new graduates in their 20s find themselves working for 'old' organisations, exacerbating retention problems already raised by pay, promotion prospects and location. We recommend that Communities and Local Government seek to raise the general status of the planning profession through, for example, working with professional bodies on a co-ordinated approach to the promotion in schools of careers in planning, consideration of a national advertising campaign such as those conducted to fill labour gaps in teaching, and commissioning a study of salary levels for planners in local government, with a view to ensuring that pay reflects skills and demand levels.


21.  The past decade or so has seen what many regard as a general diminution in the status of planning and its officers. The Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 was intended to shift the focus of planning from fairly mechanistic development control to a more proactive place-shaping 'spatial' system. The Government expected the change to raise the general status of planning:

Until recently there had been a tendency to regard the planning system largely as a regulatory tool, comprising a set of detailed policies aimed at controlling development. Viewed in this way it is easy to understand why planning might be regarded as peripheral to the broader strategic role and work of a local authority.[38]

David Morris, Deputy Director for Planning, Performance and Delivery at CLG, told us the 2004 Act was intended to move planning away from being purely regulatory and to get "away from development control, which is this tick box, yes/no procedure."[39]

22.  The Local Development Framework (LDF) introduced simultaneously, along with fixed targets for councils dealing with planning applications, has, however, led to disquiet within the profession about an increased 'tick-box' approach that some believe favours speedy process over the quality of applications made.[40] At present, for example, local authorities are expected to deal with 65 per cent of major applications within 13 weeks, and with 70 per cent of minor and 80 per cent of other applications within eight weeks.[41] Councils that achieve the targets are rewarded with planning delivery grant (PDG)—in 2004-05, the average council received £320,000, with 24 councils gaining more than £700,000 each. The Audit Commission is among those who have raised concern about this:

We identified a high degree of consensus that by linking planning delivery grant to speed of service, the government has placed too much emphasis on the need for councils to reach planning decisions quickly. This has reduced the level of service provided by some councils.[42]

23.  Planning officers pinpoint the evidence-gathering required by the LDF as a significant extra burden on their departments and question whether the process is either cost-effective or necessary. The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) suggests council budgets are being overstretched by the demands of the LDF.[43] The Planning Officers Society (POS) cites a "substantial cost and workload for both planning authorities and other key players in the planning system", and suggests the Government conduct case studies on how useful in practice is the evidence that must be gathered.[44] Lindsay Frost, Director of Planning and Environmental Services at Lewes District Council, gave the most robust view from behind a planner's desk: "the added value of such additional work is sometimes questionable but is required to fulfil the 'tick-box', process-driven approach adopted in LDF legislation."[45] Sue Willcox, Head of Town Planning at Sainsbury's, told us how that translates into frustration that encourages senior planners to leave local government: "There is much more about tick box planning, fulfilling criteria and meeting the development control targets and, therefore, more processing going on for senior planners which has been less attractive to them."[46]

24.  It is clear that the intended shift from development control-led planning to a more spatial approach has not yet fully resulted in the anticipated change of culture that would raise the general status of planning within local authorities. PAS/IDeA believe that the culture is shifting towards making planning more of a "key tool for delivery […] at the heart of achieving change in localities and communities", but agree that the focus on speedy decision making has developed a "short term target culture at the expense of the creative and integrative role of plan making."[47] The Advisory Team for Large Applications (ATLAS) also noted that planning within local government was often "given low priority, buried deep in the corporate structure". Along with the difficulties already raised by wage levels, location, structure and remit outlined above, the general diminution of the status of planning allied with the introduction of the LDF appears to have exacerbated the problems of local authorities already finding it hard to recruit and retain high-quality staff. Robert Upton, Secretary General of the RTPI, sums up:

When the 2004 Act came in the Government said—and we agreed with it—that a change in culture was as important as a change in the regime […] it has not happened yet. It is severely undercut by the target regime which applies at present which puts all the emphasis on being able to tick boxes to say that X per cent of applications have been dealt with in Y time. There is no reference to quality whatsoever [...] as that regime has actually got tighter it has had a pernicious effect.[48]


25.  The use of time-related targets for the processing of applications has, however, resulted in a significant speeding-up of decision making in most areas. The Government notes that four out of five local authorities now meet the 13-week target for major planning applications; in 2002, only one in five acted so quickly. Substantially faster turnaround has also been achieved across the board:

the target for major applications is that 65 per cent will have a decision within 13 weeks—the current achievement (year-ending December 06) is 70 per cent compared to 43 per cent in the year-ending December 02; the target for minor applications is that 70 per cent will have a decision within eight weeks—the current achievement (year-ending December 06) is 76 per cent compared to 54 per cent in the year-ending December 02; and the target for other applications is that 80 per cent will have a decision within eight weeks. The current achievement (year-ending December 06) is 87 per cent compared to 72 per cent in the year-ending December 02.[49]

While planning officers and agencies rightly highlight the burden this achievement has placed on them at a time when departments are understaffed, it none the less means that those whom the planning system serves—both developers and the public at large—have largely received considerably quicker decisions on their applications. Arguments continue over whether quicker decision making equates to acceptance of lower-quality development. It is clear that the planning process remains in a state of post-2004 flux as the culture shifts to encompass a greater role in spatial planning which takes into account the centrally set targets for making progress with applications. An adequate balance needs to be struck to achieve a process that delivers on target but retains the commitment to quality of skilled and dedicated planners while also achieving a primary purpose of the planning system, which is clear, quick and responsive service to the public whom local government exists to serve.


26.  One fruitful and immediate means of raising the status of planning might be to raise the status of the Chief Planning Officer. Kate Barker, in her 2006 review of land use planning, recommended that the Government "should raise the status of the Chief Planner within local authorities, potentially on a statutory basis, to reinforce the status of the profession for all parties, including members."[50] Several other officers within local authorities have such statutory backing: chief officers for education and social services, for example.[51]

27.  The Government responded to Barker by supporting her recommendation and saying it expected local authorities to make planning a prime responsibility of one of their corporate directors. It fell short, however, of giving the recommendation legislative force: "we do not, however, consider this should be a statutory matter as we do not view the role of the Chief Planning Officer to be commensurate with those statutory positions in the local authority and consider it is for each local authority to decide how best to organise its departmental structure."[52] The Minister for Housing told us that Chief Planning Officers should enjoy a status that reflected the importance of their function, but that whether local authorities "want a chief planning officer, that might be for them to decide."[53]

28.  What local authorities have decided to do in many cases is to subsume the role of a chief planner into a wider range of responsibilities: Stuart Hylton of the POS told us that the "free-standing planning department with a chief planning officer holding sway over it is in many cases a thing of the past."[54] Kevin Murray, an ASC board member, told us, however, that one of the answers to how planning could be made more attractive as a career was to "have a distinctive role and head and function."[55] ATLAS believes planning needs "high level corporate support".[56] The Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA) also supports creation of a statutory chief planner:

It will […] raise the profile of planning and strengthen its legitimacy as an accountable decision-making function within local government […] The role of a planning officer includes the creation and removal of millions of pounds of land value by the stroke of a pen, and the awesome responsibility for delivery of sustainable development.[57]

29.  In light of the importance of local government planning to the achievement of house-building and wider regeneration, we urge the Government to reconsider its rejection of Kate Barker's recommendation to raise the status of planning within local government by making the Chief Planning Officer a statutorily protected senior local government official.

Supply side factors


30.  Local authorities have adopted several strategies for filling empty desks. Lynda Addison, representing the POS, told us that planning authorities were bringing in and training unqualified staff, were seeking to join forces with neighbouring authorities to share skills, and were extensively using trained planners from Australia, whose system is sufficiently close to our own to make staff easily transferable.[58] Councillor Ruth Cadbury, told us that her authority—Hounslow, in west London—had used significant numbers of Antipodean and South African staff, but pointed out both the short-term value and long-term flaw in the practice, saying: "A lot of them are very capable but they are not around long enough to progress beyond being development control."[59] Tim Edmundson, while noting that temporary staff may often be of high quality, also noted the difficulty for permanent planning staff of relying on temporary and short-term staff, whether home-grown or found from abroad: it leads, he said, to "polarised workforces, with inadequate numbers of experienced officers having to supervise disproportionate numbers of inexperienced staff."[60]

31.  In other words, in some areas at least, already hard-pressed senior officers and middle managers need to devote considerable time to monitoring and developing short-term staff rather than being able to concentrate on their core roles. Two further problems also attach to the use of short-term and temporary staff: they can cost about 20 per cent more to employ than paying direct staff wages, and some employers, believing they are likely not to stay long in an organisation, are unwilling to invest in training that might encourage some to continue there.[61]

32.  There are, of course, risks in splitting high-level and routine functions and in employing unqualified or temporary staff to do the latter. Efficient administration of planning applications is perhaps the most obvious. Another is a potential 'de-skilling' of the role of the junior planners: arguably, this might lead in turn to even fewer highly qualified graduates wanting to enter the profession in the first place, although it is equally likely that able junior planners will welcome the chance to move more quickly into posts that deal with the more major applications.

33.  Dividing labour within the planning department so that highly paid, fully qualified officers deal with the largest applications while the routine extension passes through the in-tray of a junior planning technician may make perfect administrative sense—as Stuart Hylton, head of planning for a joint unit of Berkshire's local authorities and a representative of the POS, told us, this is the way Henry Ford solved the problem of building cars by breaking the process down into simple tasks.[62]

34.  But any authority shifting towards differentiating between high-level and more routine work must be flexible enough to reward junior talent and far-seeing enough to develop its technicians as its future higher-level planners. As the Home Builders Federation points out, restricting new planners to the lower levels alone may be a recipe for preventing them from ever entering local government:

new entrants joining local authorities from university planning courses are all too often asked to work on small householder planning applications and similar scale tasks. Understandably, such assignments are de-motivating for young professionals whose higher education courses will have focused on the rationale and ability for spatial planning to change things for the better.[63]

35.  Such difficulties can be overcome if planning departments are flexible in recognising the development needs and skills of their junior planners. Sir John Egan, too, warned against simply allocating lower-level work to junior technicians: "Planning technicians should of course have the option of converting to more strategic roles should they wish to do so, including support to become fully qualified planners as part of a career development strategy."[64] In short, while the use of technicians can make authorities more efficient, authorities need to be aware of the dangers of equating ability with experience and experience simply with age or length of service within a local authority or within planning itself. As the POS, among others, has told us, simply channelling junior staff into lower-level work reduces their job satisfaction, which makes it harder to attract and retain them.[65] And, as the ASC notes, good junior staff find themselves extremely marketable after only a year or two of regeneration experience and will move on if not recognised and rewarded adequately.[66] We urge local planning authorities, supported by the Local Government Association, to devise and implement schemes under which graduates entering planning departments are given a structured and mentored period of experience in all aspects of spatial planning within the relevant authority.

36.  Part of the culture change required is a recognition that local government needs to tap the abilities of its most talented and able recruits, wherever they come from, whatever their age, whatever their past experience. Underlying the idea of the 'missing generation', for example, is an implicit assumption that only those in their 30s and 40s with a decade or two's experience behind them can fill senior roles. This may most often be the case, but it is not a given. A more flexible attitude towards ages—and wages—is required within local authorities if local government is to recruit and retain the planners it needs. As we shall see shortly, the private sector fares considerably better in both respects.


37.  Another way in which local authorities may cover for labour shortages is to work more closely together. We heard that, among others, authorities in Hampshire, Norfolk, London, Berkshire, West Sussex, the Black Country and Surrey have, to some degree, pooled resources to meet staffing shortages and share skills. Lynda Addison of the POS told us such sharing was good in principle, although it does not of course solve the long-term shortage problem.[67] Joint working between authorities has also been promoted in other fields in recent years, perhaps most notably through the statutory introduction of joint working arrangements on waste collection through the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007.[68] The Audit Commission notes, however, that few authorities have yet embarked on joint working for planning matters "because councils perceive there to be key obstacles […] risk aversion, lack of trust and incompatibility of IT systems."[69] Kate Barker, in her 2006 review of land use planning, said that local authorities too small to achieve economies of scale themselves could none the less do so by pooling resources with others, but noted that this was "currently not a widespread practice among local planning departments."[70] CLG must encourage increased joint working across local governmental boundaries to meet the needs of the planning system. It is not reasonable to expect every local authority to be able to respond to every new development in the skills required for 21st century planning, nor is it cost-effective to attempt to do so. The sharing of best practice between authorities is a responsibility of the Academy for Sustainable Communities, and CLG should set specific targets for such information sharing, for more joint approaches to developments that affect contiguous areas and for overcoming inward-looking institutional 'turf wars' between authorities which should be focused on serving their communities.


38.  In her 2006 review of land-use planning, Kate Barker recommended that local authorities use their current available skills more effectively:

A number of studies have concluded that non-planners can do more of the basic work. Simple householder applications, for example, could be dealt with by relatively unqualified staff, freeing up resource for use elsewhere.[71]

Sir John Egan had previously suggested that 98 per cent of relatively minor applications could be treated differently from the few substantial housing, business or retail applications:[72]

We see no point in using more experienced people with strategic skills to undertake tasks that could be completed primarily by planning technicians who may be given the requisite skills through practical on the job training.[73]

Liz Peace, Chief Executive of the BPF, also argued for a flexible approach within planning departments to large and routine applications:

Part of the problem when you look at the planning system is it has to deal with everything from the garage extension right through to a Kings Cross […] we would rather see fewer highly qualified planners who are paid more and take some of the lower level stuff, which at the moment qualified planners are dealing with, out of the expert planner's system and give that to what we call para-planners in the way you have para-legals, technique people or clerks.[74]

And the Minister for Housing agrees that "certain aspects of the planning function […] could be better done by technicians and admin staff within the teams and departments."[75] Finally, this also offers potential benefits for the status of planners. As Sir John Egan noted,

We see this change as one way for local authorities to free up resources so they can pay those who possess high-level generic and technical skills a salary that better reflects the importance of their contribution to creating and maintaining sustainable communities in their area.[76]

39.  Some local authorities have in fact begun to make this distinction, reserving the most substantial projects for their most experienced officers.[77] Others remain to be convinced that the system is sufficiently flexible to allow this split, keeping high-level officers involved at all levels and stages of the application process:

In our experience, many planning managers are too wedded to the idea that there are certain pieces of work which must be undertaken by qualified planners. We have long argued that many of the front-end and back-end processes concerned with planning application can be undertaken with suitably trained support staff, leaving the planning officers free to concentrate on considering proposals and formulating recommendations.[78]

We agree that those who possess the highest skills should be charged with delivering the most significant development projects and that they should be rewarded adequately for doing so. We urge the Government to work with the Royal Town Planning Institute, as the professional body for planners, to develop clearer job roles within the profession for those who may deal with routine, functional planning applications and those who fill higher-level roles that require a broader mix of generic skills on top of the highly developed technical skills already possessed.


40.  A further means by which local authorities have sought to raise their capacity is an increasing use of private planning consultancy. The Audit Commission reports that only one invitation to private consultants to tender was issued in 1986-87, that the figure had risen to only nine by 1993-95, but that it had then risen sharply to 125 for the most recent year. "Whereas in the 1980s very few pieces of work were outsourced, this is now commonplace."[79]

41.  Consultancy retains a comparatively minor role in the public sector, none the less. Lindsay Frost told us that Lewes District Council, which has an annual planning budget of around £1 million, spent £170,000 over three years on external consultancy.[80] The Audit Commission estimates that only £8.3 million (6 per cent) of the £120 million PDG paid to councils in 2004-05 went on consultancy.[81] And consultancy is not always paid for from councils' own budgets: Liz Peace, Chief Executive of the BPF, cited Birmingham as one council which obtained a developer contribution under Section 106 procedures to purchase outside expert help.[82]

42.  Consultancy can also provide specialised advice which it would not be economic for local authorities to maintain in house. For example, retail planning development has emerged as one field in which several specialist consultancies operate. The Musgrave Retail Partnership, which provides sales, marketing and IT for 2,000 food retailers such as Budgens and Londis, says that such consultancies have recruited extensively from local government but can provide back to local government a level of skills developed from training that local government finds it hard to afford.[83] The Audit Commission also reports that other European countries have a strong tradition of using consultants to supply skills small authorities cannot economically maintain: for example, "Using the private sector to support the plan-making process is well established in the Netherlands, where many municipalities are very small and find it difficult to find permanent staff."[84]

43.  The use of consultants cannot, however, solve all local government's problems. Lynda Addison, representing the POS, said consultants often suffered precisely the same shortages as those found in the public sector.[85] The RICS believes that the general labour shortage is causing private sector salaries to rise at an unsustainable rate of around 15 to 20 per cent a year.[86] The Institution of Economic Development notes that local government cannot rely on consultants' availability: "expecting external expertise to be available on permanent stand-by is unrealistic; not only might the private sector be unable to recruit people with suitable skills, but they also might find a sector that is more lucrative than local government in which to work."[87] As the Audit Commission has noted, the use of private sector consultants clearly does not add to the overall pool of qualified planners. None the less, use of private sector consultancy can provide some additional capacity for councils which are struggling to meet demands both for routine work and in exceptional circumstances such as the need to prepare for appeals. The increasing use of external consultants, managed at arms length, highlights very clearly the need for increased 'generic' commissioning and management skills among senior public sector planners, particularly the need to negotiate value-for-money contract rates, monitor and manage performance, and ensure that agreed goals are achieved.


44.  The growing amount of work offered to the private sector has been matched, unsurprisingly, by a growth in provision. There were, by 2006, some 442 separate firms offering planning services in England.[88] Tim Edmundson reports that in 1997 the largest private firm in the sector employed only 40 planners: today, there are 16 firms employing that number of people, and four that employ more than 100.[89] Inevitably, this has placed some strain on the ability of local government to attract candidates for jobs and to hold on to skilled staff.

45.  Sir John Egan warned in his 2004 review of the importance of not allowing all those with the best-developed skills to be "enticed from the public into the private sector".[90] As RICS notes, a primary enticement is higher salaries.[91] Lindsay Frost of Lewes District Council says that planners with "five years plus experience are highly marketable and are particularly attractive to the expanding planning consultancy sector."[92] But, once again, wages are not the only spur. BPF Chief Executive Liz Peace, conceding that many planners go from local authorities into the private sector, pinpointed status as a driving factor: "you really need to do something to raise the status of a planning officer's lot in the public sector so that once you have them in there they are not all stampeding for the door at the earliest opportunity."[93]

46.  There is general agreement that the private sector is more proactive and more effective in recruiting the brightest and best graduates. Robert Upton, General Secretary of the RTPI, told us that

private sector recruiters are much smarter on their feet than the public sector. I guarantee you that in the best planning schools the private sector will have been around them all dealing with those postgraduate students this year and will have made job offers. They just cream the stock. Local government cannot do that.[94]

The world's oldest planning school, the 100-year-old Department of Civic Design at Liverpool University, confirms this:

more of our best graduating students are being attracted to private work in the private sector, often attracted by more dynamic marketing, better career prospects and a perception of a more interesting and varied workload.[95]

Only 25 universities offer RTPI-accredited qualifications in planning. We recommend that CLG fund a public sector recruitment drive targeted at those universities to attract more of the highest-achieving graduates and postgraduates into local government planning.


47.  One encouraging point for the future supply of planners is that the students the private sector is apparently 'creaming off' are more plentiful and of a higher calibre than in recent years. As has been said, the number of planning schools fell during the 1980s and 1990s. Since 2000-01, however, the number of students entering planning schools has risen again, partly to meet increasing demand for planners and partly because the RTPI and the Government and its agencies have sought to encourage a range of new courses and wider access to them.[96] Not only are there more courses; Lynda Addison of the POS told us that current courses are often full.[97] Sheffield Hallam University, Anglia Ruskin and the University of the West of England (UWE) are among those reporting that the number of students enrolled on courses has increased, particularly at postgraduate level.[98] The Minister for Housing told us that around 1,500 students were entering courses, compared with 800-900 "a few years back".[99] The Department of Civic Design at Liverpool University reports that "the calibre of new students entering our programmes, their level of engagement and performance and subsequently the calibre of new entrants to the profession is rising."[100] Three UK universities—Glasgow, Kingston and Strathclyde—have newly embarked on planning provision.[101] Some 25 schools currently enjoy RTPI accreditation for 111 different courses ranging from undergraduate level through to a PhD.[102] The ASC also launched a new Foundation Degree in Sustainable Communities in January.[103]

48.  A number of new courses have been stimulated by Government action as CLG has launched several programmes aimed at increasing the number of planners in the system. For example, three universities in regions where higher-than-average development is occurring have received £110,000 to fund new places for students, and a distance-learning MA course in spatial planning has been set up at UWE; CLG, which provided £250,000 for the project, reports that 151 practitioners from local government planning departments have accessed that MA to date, but the university, while confirming that figure, describes it as "less than we might have hoped by this time".[104]

49.  Since 2004-05, CLG has funded bursaries for a one-year postgraduate qualification in planning through 15 universities in England. Some 513 students have benefited, and the scheme has cost £4.8 million to date. Students awarded the bursary receive more than £3,000 to cover tuition fees and a maintenance grant of £6,000. Exit surveys from the first two years showed that 99 per cent of students completed their courses, but that on graduating only 36 per cent entered local government employment, with 34 per cent going to private planning consultancies, and the remainder going into the third sector, public sector planning jobs outside local government (like those in the National Health Service or the Environment Agency) and academia. Given that only a quarter of all planning graduates enter the private sector, the fact that a third of those who received public funding of around £9,000 to complete their studies have done so seems to support the evidence that the private sector is "smarter on its feet" when it comes to recruiting the brightest students.[105]

50.  The fact that around half those funded through bursaries entered the private sector resulted in some criticism for CLG, which has now stipulated that students who receive a bursary should spend at least three of their first five years of employment after graduation in the public sector.[106] Kate Barker, in December 2006, recommended that bursaries should be tied to a number of years of public service "so that a return is provided for the public purse."[107] The Government initially argued against Barker's recommendation, saying that the scheme delivered "a public good by increasing the pool of qualified planners, wherever they work."[108] David Morris, Deputy Director of Planning, Delivery and Performance at CLG, told us no public service was stipulated initially in order to "attract as many people as possible into the profession."[109] We are glad that the Government has finally accepted the need to guarantee a return on the substantial sums being spent on its postgraduate bursary scheme following its initial resistance to requiring students to work in the public sector. The fact that nearly half the students whose courses have been publicly funded have gone straight into the private sector with no requirement to provide a public return on their learning represents a missed opportunity to expand the range and talent available to local government planning departments.


51.  Local authorities and other public sector planners have begun to pursue a policy of 'growing their own' staff through offering in-service training. The RTPI has long required its members to undergo a process of continuous professional development (CPD) if they are to remain qualified for membership, but in-house provision of training, or funds for training, appears to be growing, with the aim of bringing more people into the profession and by a wider variety of routes. RTPI General Secretary Robert Upton accepted that the profession reached the point at which there were too few ways to enter it "unless as a young person you make possibly a rather fortuitous choice".[110] The RICS has called for the establishment of means of making it "easier for professionals from other sectors to move sideways into the sector".[111] UWE says that local authorities, having recognised that they cannot recruit, are paying for more part-time and distance courses and suggests that the model adopted to attract more people into teaching from other professions and at various times of life could be useful for spurring growth in the number of planners.[112] Oxford Brookes University identifies growth in demand for courses in, among other topics, Environmental Impact Assessment, Planning Law, Enforcement Issues for Planning Officers and Development Control.[113] We recommend that CLG explore, through the Academy for Sustainable Communities, the potential for a conversion course for mid-life professionals who may wish to switch careers to planning, on the model used in teaching and the legal profession.

52.  There are, of course, risks attached to the 'grow your own' strategy, most obviously the possible lack of return on investment for those organisations that fund internal training, even if the wider planning sector benefits. PAS/IDeA report "much anecdotal evidence about the significant number of planners who move from local government to the private sector when training has been completed".[114] There is also the question of how good the training is: Tim Edmundson suggests the massive growth in recent provision has had a limited impact on staff shortages or skills levels, and that the training market is geared towards the provision of one-off events that impart information, such as conferences and seminars, and less towards more systematic learning that embeds knowledge.[115] The time and financial pressures on local authorities which have to fund the course and spare their staff to take them may well explain a bias in this direction.


53.  Finally, while the image of the planning profession can be improved by raising pay, raising status, providing training and raising job satisfaction levels, it can also be improved through clearer communication. Poor public image and lack of awareness in schools are among reasons why planning lacks appeal. The POS and Sheffield Hallam University suggest that young people are also put off careers in planning by simple lack of understanding of the jargon used to describe it. To take just one example, CLG's list of missing skills is headed by 'inclusive visioning', which appears to mean working out what an area needs.[116] Sheffield Hallam, as it developed a new degree, found that:

There was concern over the terminology of 'sustainable communities'. Would people know what it means? Would young people be attracted to careers in this field? The career branding of Sustainable Communities remains potentially confused and fragmented.[117]

The POS is even blunter:

Straightforward things like the simplification of processes and the removal of confusing jargon could do much to de-mystify and facilitate participation in the system.[118]

New graduates and postgraduates and those who might consider changing course might find a career in planning more appealing if they understood what it meant. Communities and Local Government and, in particular, the Academy for Sustainable Communities should work rigorously to eliminate the kind of jargon that acts as a barrier to understanding, particularly in materials aimed at schools.

14   ODPM, The Egan Review, April 2004, note to p. 65. Back

15   Academy for Sustainable Communities, Mind the Skills Gap, 2007, p. 43. Back

16   Communities and Local Government, Planning for a Sustainable Future: A White Paper, May 2007, Cm 7120, p. 214. Back

17   Academy for Sustainable Communities, Mind the Skills Gap, 2007, p. 46. Back

18   Ibid, p. 34. Back

19   Ev 62 Back

20   Ev 96 Back

21   Ev 133 Back

22   Ev 150 Back

23   Ev 156 Back

24   Academy for Sustainable Communities, Mind the Skills Gap, 2007, p. 44. Back

25   Ev 94 Back

26   Ev 136 Back

27   Communities and Local Government, Community, Opportunity, Prosperity: Annual Report 2008, Cm 7394, p. 96. Back

28   ODPM, The Egan Review, p. 60. Back

29   Q 189 Back

30   Ev 82 Back

31   Academy for Sustainable Communities, Mind the Skills Gap, 2007, p. 43. Back

32   Ev 85 Back

33   Q 189 Back

34   ODPM, The Egan Review, p. 66. Back

35   Academy for Sustainable Communities, Mind the Skills Gap, 2007, p. 35. Back

36   Ibid, p. 31. Back

37   Ibid, p. 35. Back

38   Communities and Local Government, Planning for a Sustainable Future, White Paper, May 2007, Cm 7120, p.122. Back

39   Q 217 Back

40   Q 27 Back

41   Communities and Local Government, Planning for a Sustainable Future, White Paper, May 2007, Cm 7120, p. 132. Back

42   Audit Commission, The Planning System: Matching expectations and capacity, February 2006, p. 22. Back

43   Ev 44-45 Back

44   Ev 58 Back

45   Ev 65 Back

46   Q 71 Back

47   Ev 84 Back

48   Q 126 Back

49   Communities and Local Government, Planning for a Sustainable Future, White Paper, May 2007, Cm 7120, p. 132. Back

50   Kate Barker, Review of Land Use Planning, p. 129. Back

51   Ev 91 Back

52   Communities and Local Government, Planning for a Sustainable Future, White Paper, Cm 7120, p. 214. Back

53   Q 206 Back

54   Q 47 Back

55   Q 194 Back

56   Ev 114 Back

57   Ev 91 Back

58   Q 45 Back

59   Q 107 Back

60   Ev 76 Back

61   Ev 80 Back

62   Q 31 Back

63   Ev 154 Back

64   ODPM, The Egan Review, p. 46. Back

65   Ev 54-61 Back

66   Academy for Sustainable Communities, Mind the Skills Gap, 2007 p. 36. Back

67   Q 32 Back

68   Communities and Local Government Committee, Refuse Collection, Fifth Report of 2006-07, HC 536-I, chapter 6. Back

69   Audit Commission, The Planning System: Matching expectations and capacity, February 2006, p. 53. Back

70   Kate Barker, Review of Land Use Planning, p. 127. Back

71   Kate Barker, Review of Land Use Planning, p. 127. Back

72   ODPM, The Egan Review, p. 44. Back

73   Ibid, p. 46. Back

74   Qq 95 and 74 Back

75   Q 215 Back

76   ODPM, The Egan Review, p. 66. Back

77   Ev 63 Back

78   Ev 125 Back

79   Audit Commission, The Planning System: Matching expectations and capacity, February 2006, p. 35. Back

80   Q 51 Back

81   Audit Commission, The Planning System, p. 37. Back

82   Q 79 Back

83   Ev 156 Back

84   Audit Commission, The Planning System, p. 43. Back

85   Q 42 Back

86   Ev 44 Back

87   Ev 49 Back

88   Audit Commission, The Planning System, p. 42. Back

89   Ev 75 Back

90   ODPM, The Egan Review, p. 66. Back

91   Ev 44 Back

92   Ev 66 Back

93   Q 74 Back

94   Q 123 Back

95   Ev 128 Back

96   Audit Commission, The Planning System, p. 32. Back

97   Q 61 Back

98   Ev 92 and Ev 46-49 Back

99   Q 205 Back

100   Ev 127 Back

101   Ev 101 Back

102   Ev 107 Back

103   Ev 135 Back

104   Ev 98 and Ev 48 Back

105   Audit Commission, The Planning System, p. 32. Back

106   Communities and Local Government, Planning for a Sustainable Future, White Paper, Cm 7120.  Back

107   Kate Barker, Review of Land Use Planning, p. 129. Back

108   Communities and Local Government, Planning for a Sustainable Future, White Paper, May 2007, Cm 7120, p. 214. Back

109   Q 213 Back

110   Q 121 Back

111   Ev 45 Back

112   Ev 47-48 Back

113   Ev 71-73 Back

114   Ev 88 Back

115   Ev 76 Back

116   Ev 96 Back

117   Ev 93 Back

118   Ev 59 Back

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