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Town Planning: Career Routes and Requirements

For a varied, stretching and rewarding career try becoming a town planner. Land is scarce and there are competing demands for its use, so planning involves working out the best use for the land and creating spaces that are of value.

At Anderselite, we often hear that town planners play an integral role in the development of towns and cities. Their decisions can be key to the success and lifeblood of a community. Whereas planning mistakes in the past have added to problems of deprivation, good planning can help pull an area up, attracting new business and a sense of local pride.

Making those decisions is difficult and town planners need to consider all factors of infrastructure, including the demand for factors such as business, leisure, housing, green space and transport. If a plan doesn't meet the needs of the community in areas of economy and social interest, it will fail.

Deciding on the right course of action requires professionals to see different points of view and make fair unbiased decisions, which may not suit everyone. 

The kinds of projects that planners are involved with are very varied. Housing, particularly planning affordable and energy efficient homes, is a particularly important part of the role of a town planner within a local authority. Tackling the problem of increasing traffic on the roads by encouraging residents to use public transport and reducing greenhouse gases is also prevalent.

Other such projects planners could be involved in include the consideration of the layout of streets in a community which could help to reduce crime, conserving old buildings and sites of historical or archaeological interest and creating green lungs in urban areas such as implementing woodland and other open spaces sustainably.

Town planners are also involved in enforcement. They make rulings on planning applications. They enforce planning rules, such as when building work has begun without permission and they must also listen to concerns and suggestions from locals who would be affected by a planning decision.

An essential part of the role is carrying out the necessary fieldwork to make good decisions. Data needs to be collected to assess the impact of a project such as a new road or building. Planners need to become proficient in surveying techniques, computer-aided design (CAD) and geographical information systems (GIS) to gather the information needed to make the right recommendations to local and regional councils.

Essential skills in town planning include the ability to communicate and negotiate along with a good knowledge of local planning policies and procedures. Any information gathered would need to be presented in a coherent way to ensure that a decision or piece of advice is based on evidence rather than a hunch or idea. The ability to write to write reports to a high standard and an analytical mind to disseminate the data is required.
Town planners require a high standard of education, usually to post-graduate level or equivalent.
To work in the profession, candidates need to study for a qualification accredited by the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI). Students can study for a four-year degree in town planning or take a one year post-graduate course if they have a degree in relevant subject such as geography, statistics, architecture or environmental science. A number of universities offer such courses, including some which can be completed remotely.

Town planning is not necessarily a 9-5 job. Fieldwork may need to be carried out at differing times of the day and at weekends. Professionals may need to attend public and council meetings in the evenings. While much of the analysis and report writing will be carried out in the planning office, town planners will be expected to do site visits and talk to people on the street.

For individuals who like a variety of projects, talking to people analysing data and working out solutions, town planning is a great career. There is a definite career path with attractive salaries to match. Graduate or assistant planners starting salaries can be between £16,000 and £28,000 a year. whilst senior planners can earn up to £34,000. Planners with management responsibilities can earn up to £41,000 while the salary for a chief planning officer can be as much as £80,000.

In short, town planning is a career for people who want to make a difference to the environment and to local communities. It is a job with challenge and allows for considerable professional development providing a wide choice of specialisms. It is ideally suited to someone with a high degree of intellect who thrives on problem solving.
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