Town Planner

The Job and What's Involved

Planning is about preparing plans to shape the future of our towns, cities and rural areas for the benefit of society, both now and in the future.

Planners prepare long-term plans, make proposals for new developments or examine the proposals of others, and give professional advice to decision makers, such as government departments and local councillors. They need to balance the needs of housing, jobs, transport, leisure and the environment.

Planners must also be aware of policies to combat global warming. In some cases, the most effective solutions to problems may be too expensive, so they have to adapt to financial, political and social situations.

Planning work is very varied, with projects ranging from small house extensions to the building of an international airport. Planners may be involved in:

  • Rebuilding and refurbishing properties and amenities.
  • Redesigning street layouts to control traffic and improve public safety.
  • Developing plans for new housing in accordance with government guidelines.
  • Dealing with the problems of building new supermarkets in sensitive areas.
  • Conserving or rebuilding town and city centres.
  • Improving road, rail and tram networks, and forecasting future demand.
  • Considering new transport construction plans.

Planners help to deal with problems inherited from the past, such as road systems that were not designed for today's large volumes of traffic. They must also be able to forecast future trends, such as increased need for housing or shopping floor space.

Sometimes they deal with very difficult situations, for example a new factory development that might provide jobs, but might also threaten wildlife. They may have to deal with people who are upset or angry about decisions.

The work of a town planner may include:

  • Visiting sites to assess the effects of developments.
  • Collecting information and writing reports.
  • Analysing data and preparing policies.
  • Advising councillors and other decision makers.
  • Presenting proposals at planning committees and public meetings.
  • Negotiating between groups with different interests.
  • Using IT systems, such as computer-aided design (CAD) or geographic information systems (GIS).

In a small office, planners may do a wide range of work. In a large office they are more likely to specialise.

Working as a consultant, a planner may represent individuals, groups or companies and negotiate on their behalf with relevant authorities. Some planners specialise in specific areas, such as historic buildings, conservation, transport or regeneration of deprived areas.

Planners in local government work 35 to 40 hours a week, but occasionally have to work outside of standard office hours, perhaps for evening meetings. Hours can be more variable in consultancy work, particularly if the work is in different parts of the country or abroad. There are increasing opportunities for part-time work, flexitime and job sharing, especially in the public sector.

Most planners are based in offices, but may have to travel to attend meetings or visit sites.

Starting salaries may be around £20,000 to £22,500 a year.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

Planners are employed by:

Local authorities and government departments - there are over 500 such employers throughout the UK, and they employ large numbers of planners.

Planning consultancies - there are over 1,000 consultancies in the UK, ranging from one-person concerns to large firms with international offices.

Large firms, such as house builders, supermarket chains and water companies, that employ planners to deal with their planning work.

Voluntary and environmental organisations.

Government agencies for economic development, environment, housing, heritage and the countryside.

Town planning is a growing profession, and the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) has over 20,000 members. However, there is currently a substantial shortage of planners, both nationally and internationally.

Job vacancies are advertised in local and national newspapers, in Planning magazine and on websites, such as

Education and Training

Entrants to town planning typically have a relevant degree or postgraduate qualification. The three main routes to qualification are:

A first degree in planning accredited by the RTPI. These are offered at around 21 universities throughout the UK. They last four years full time, or five years if they include a year on practical placement.

A first degree in a different subject followed by an RTPI-accredited postgraduate qualification in planning. First degree subjects that are more likely to lead to entry to a postgraduate planning course include architecture, geography, geology, ecology, landscape architecture, economics, statistics and transportation.

The new RTPI-accredited one-year intensive postgraduate planning courses are offered at 17 universities. Some universities offer postgraduate courses that last two years full time or three years part time.

The Joint Distance Learning Masters Degree in Town and Country Planning. This provides a route to becoming a qualified planner through distance learning. The course can be completed in three years by graduates with at least one year's experience in a planning related field, or in seven years by other students.

Entry to degree courses is normally with at least two A levels/three H grades, and five GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3), including maths and English, or equivalent qualifications.

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A Few More Exams You Might Need

After gaining a suitable qualification and at least two years' relevant practical experience in planning, a planner can apply to become a chartered town planner, and member of the RTPI.

Members of the RTPI are required to update their knowledge and skills through Continuing Professional Development (CPD).

Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A planner should:

  • Have good spoken and written communication skills.
  • Be able to work to deadlines.
  • Be able to analyse data.
  • Have good negotiating skills.
  • Consider conflicting needs and interests, and take a balanced view.
  • Be capable of presenting proposals and dealing with people who may be angry or upset about planning decisions.
  • Work well in a team.
  • Have a good understanding of maps and plans.
  • Be confident in the use of IT.

Your Long Term Prospects

It is often necessary to move between employers in order to progress. Some planners move into management or between public and private sectors. Some move into planning education and training.

There may be opportunities to work abroad.

Get Further Information

Commission for Architecture and
the Built Environment (CABE),
1 Kemble Street, London WC2B 4AN
Tel: 020 7070 6700

Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI),
41 Botolph Lane, London EC3R 8DL
Tel: 020 7929 9494

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