An alarming wake up call for the planning profession
Nearly 1 in 5 planners in the public sector is thinking of leaving the profession in the next 12 months – Digital planning can help to turn this worrying statistic around.
It is disappointing, but perhaps not surprising, to find that there is a lot of dissatisfaction in the planning profession. Some might recall Rowan Moore’s article in the Guardian earlier this year that suggested that planners were in need of a hug; there was new evidence last week that planners were in more need of affection. The 2016 Career & Salary Survey released on Friday by Planning Magazine, revealed that 19% of public sector planners were considering leaving the profession in the next 12 months. The main reasons cited for leaving the profession included dissatisfaction with the nature of the job, excessive workloads and excessive bureaucracy. In addition to working misery, the profession is facing a ‘skills shortage’ according to Steven Fidgett, head of UK planning consultancy WYG.
Buried in Bureaucracy
Planning is a profession that has not evolved much since its inception in the late 1940s, and is now suffering as a result. As local government resources have been stripped away under central government’s austerity policies, councils have been forced to do more with less. Unfortunately, unlike other industries that have benefitted much from the boost of technology and data processing power, planning has remained incredibly analogue. It’s time for the profession to let tech pull up some of the slack.
There are few office environments where piles of paper documents and files still litter desks–but look around any council planning department, and this is what you’ll find. When we rely purely on analogue means to prepare and assess applications, we lose the ability to use the powerful tools of data and computation to help us quickly reach the best possible decisions. A digital planning system will overhaul our industry-wide inefficient processes, help planners to manage their workloads better, and ensure that we are using evidence to more effectively solve the problems and deliver the outcomes that brought us into the profession in the first place.
A digital planning system will overhaul our industry-wide inefficient processes, help planners to manage their workloads better, and ensure that we are using evidence to more effectively solve the problems and deliver the outcomes that brought us into the profession in the first place.
Better use of technology will also help to overcome the reliance on skills at a time when they are in short supply. Humans are great at being empathetic and creative problem-solvers, but they are not so good at processing lots of complex information–the type that is common place in planning. In the survey, Anna Rose, the president of the Planning Officers Society points out that, today, being a planning officer is ‘one of the most stressful jobs you can have’.
Time to wind it up a notch
Late in 2015, as Chancellor, George Osborne was keen to drive productivity in the planning system in order to deliver the new homes that Britain requires. However, to date, the spending has not followed that would have allowed the profession to provide the desired results. Last month, Trudi Elliott, the RTPI Chief Executive argued that, in order to deliver the government’s vision for housebuilding, we needed to restore faith in planning and to reverse decades of underinvestment. If we are serious about delivering homes and great communities, it is important that we give planners the tools and the powers to do their jobs properly.
There is however some good news. Organisations such as the Future Cities Catapult are actively helping professionals to explore what a digital planning system might look like. The government is also beginning to take the idea of digital planning seriously. One of the provisions in the emerging Neighbourhood Planning Bill is that the Secretary of State may require local planning authorities to publish local development schemes and documents in certain data formats. This will enable innovators to begin collecting, aggregating and presenting data and information in alternative ways to the standard PDF documents that have now become the rule in the planning world.
This is an exciting time to test out new approaches in planning, and the numbers in this year’s Career & Salary Survey clearly testify to their need–if we are to keep town planning a path that provides rewarding satisfaction and results for the professionals and wider society.
This article was originally posted by Urban Intelligence’s Founder, Daniel Mohamed on LinkedIn (November 7th 2016).
Author: Daniel Mohamed
Daniel holds a BSc in City and Regional Planning from Cardiff University and a MSc in Urban Regeneration from the Bartlett, UCL. He has over seven years of experience working across the public, private and voluntary sectors of planning and development across the UK and Europe. He’s also a leading advocate of digital planning and the use of tech and urban data to solve problems in the built and natural environments.