Having now been working with us for a few weeks, our intern Martin has been reflecting on what he has learned in this time, in particular in terms of the values which are important to the planning profession in practice. This has also been interesting for us as an insight into how our values are perceived by others, and we pride ourselves on the fact that these can clearly be seen to inform the work we do. We hope that this has been a useful learning experience for Martin, and that he can take these values with him in his career. On which, over to Martin!
The value of work experience
In my time so far as an intern at Aurora Planning, I have learned a significant amount about the planning profession, both in terms of how it operates in practice and the principles that underpin this. In particular, the work I have been part of has made me aware of seven key values which Aurora Planning embody, and which I hope to apply in my future career. Importantly, these values reflect the five core principles of the RTPI Code of Professional Conduct, indicating that they are aligned with the standards expected of professional planners, and so may be of interest to anyone looking to understand what makes planners tick. These values are:
1 - Empathy
The human and emotional aspect of planning is prominent in all forms of practice and at a variety of scales. Whether it be a small extension to private property or a large-scale housing development, a considerable amount of time and effort is put into planning decisions, with all development inevitably having an impact on people. As such, it is important to understand the views and perspectives of all those who are involved in these processes. A notable example I experienced of this was a client who expressed the emotional investment that had been made in trying to secure planning consent to incorporate an additional piece of land adjacent to their home into their garden, and the impact on them of the process being drawn out over a significant length of time due to various challenges and negotiations with planning officers. In cases such as this, empathy is essential if we are to understand the client’s point of view, realise the difficulties that planning decisions can cause for individuals, and demonstrate to the client that we are there to support them through the planning process. This is crucial for developing a good relationship with clients and providing excellent customer service.
2 - Honesty
As planners, we need to be honest about whether outcomes are achievable, or whether a client’s proposal is unrealistic in terms of the probability of success of their ambition. In such cases, there still remains an option to provide help however, as we can provide alternative solutions and try to work out any way in which a plan could be feasible. An example of using this honesty was speaking with a client who was upset about a decision to grant planning permission for new development which overlooked their garden and wanted to take action against this. While empathising with their concerns and keen to help if we could, the best we could do was to explain that it would not be possible for this decision to be reversed in any form even if a complaint was made. While obviously not the response the client had originally hoped for, they expressed their thanks for our honesty, with this allowing them to make an informed decision about what to do next. This highlights the importance of being true to the client and managing expectations.
3 - Integrity
Integrity is maintained by upholding the moral principle of causing the least amount of harm and providing the greatest amount of benefit in all elements of our work. This includes ensuring that, for all proposals, any potential detrimental impacts on the surrounding environment, economy and people are kept to a minimum. In one example of this, we were approached by a new client for a project that might have had an impact on an existing client and, applying the principle of minimising harm, declared a potential conflict of interest before undertaking any work. This shows that we act in good faith and seek to minimise conflict, and also further builds trust and makes clients confident in our actions.
4 - Confidentiality
This value is encompassed by the nature of the word ‘planning’ itself. As they are indeed plans and often not finalised or implemented ideas, it is imperative to maintain confidentiality so that clients know that information and plans remain in the private domain, and have the peace of mind to know that information will not be made public or distributed further until it is authorised. Doing this is essential for building trust in the professional service as well as the planning process itself. Aurora Planning frequently work with clients who require a high level of confidentiality, meaning we need to be careful to only discuss information relating to proposals at the appropriate time and place as failing to do so could jeopardise extensive amounts of planning and prior preparation. This was clearly exemplified when I took part in a meeting with a client with whom Aurora Planning had signed a Non-Disclosure Agreement, with the sensitivity of the proposed development making it crucial that confidentiality was maintained.
5 - Diligence
As a planner, it is essential to give due care to the finer details involved in applications, reports and statements, especially when considering development plan policy requirements and other material considerations. It is also important to communicate and understand exactly what someone is planning to develop or change as this can have implications on which policies are applied and the best course of action to take. Working with a strong attention to detail ensures the best outcome for all parties involved and makes the planning process operate more efficiently. Ways in which I applied this diligence during my time at Aurora Planning were by researching whether proposals of a similar nature had been made previously, and undertaking site visits to broaden my visual understanding of a proposed development, which then allows for more tailored advice to be offered and provides the best service possible to the client. I have also learned that planning requires continuous learning due to frequently changing policy and legislation. You cannot simply depend on what you already know and need to ensure that your knowledge and understanding change over time, demonstrating a commitment to continual professional development for the benefit of our clients.
6 - Communication
The value of communication applies to everyone involved in the planning process. The way in which we speak with different stakeholders in the process also varies depending on who is involved and the nature of the relationship. For example, the way in which communication takes place may vary depending on whether it is a client being met for the first time or an architect with whom a good relationship already exists. The style of communication in the written sense also varies depending on the context. The tone of a planning statement or application form will be very different compared to that of this blog. I have learned to use discretion to decide which manner of communication is appropriate and when.
We also need to be able to effectively communicate key points and arguments both verbally and written, as it is crucial for gaining support and convincing others of particular viewpoints. An example of when good communication was important was when, in demonstrating integrity, we sought the consent of one client to inform a neighbouring client about a proposed development which might have had an impact on them. Involving both parties in a situation like this as early as possible in the process allows for cooperation between those involved and avoids any problems arising further down the line, to the benefit of all.
7 - Collaboration
The quality of planning work is significantly improved by working with others to achieve an overall objective. This isn’t restricted to just between the planners at Aurora – there is scope for working together within wider project teams, between us and the client, and with the planning service. With Aurora specifically, I have witnessed the working style of Maggie and Pippa, which is to review and share each other’s work to prevent errors and provide feedback to act on. This process of collaboration allows each person’s strengths to be utilised to make sure information and reports are rigorous and address all required issues, delivering the best output for clients as a result.
When it comes to applying this value in my work, I find this especially helpful as I know that having someone else review what I have produced will undoubtedly pick up on areas which have been overlooked or require editing. I make sure to understand and ask questions about the feedback given to me, and then proceed to take this into account and adapt my work accordingly.
The professional learning environment which this internship has offered me has been invaluable in terms of gaining an insight into how planning works in practice, and how that practice is informed by the values outlined above – something which I can’t learn from academic work alone. It must also be recognised that these values do not exist in isolation but are interlinked such that it is essential to take a holistic view, as demonstrated in some of the examples above. I believe that applying and upholding these values will help me to be a better planner and to deliver better planning outcomes which, given the wide ranging impacts that planning has, will in turn have wide reaching benefits. I hope this blog has given an insight into the perspective of a planner and illustrates why these values are important.
Thanks for reading!
And thanks to Martin for preparing this blog, and for all his hard work in his internship so far! Martin can be contacted on email@example.com or, to find out about how aurora planning can assist you in any aspect of the planning process, please visit www.auroraplanning.co.uk or email firstname.lastname@example.org. And to receive future blogs and updates by email, please click here.