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As part of the RTPI’s Chief Planners of Tomorrow Initiative, Emily Bates, Graduate Planner at NJL Consulting, was recently hosted by the Barnet Council Planning Team.

RTPI Chief Planners of Tomorrow: Text

The initiative provides early career planners with an opportunity to shadow those in senior leadership roles in the public sector and see first-hand how strategic decisions are made.

Throughout the day, Emily received an insight into the roles, career progression, and responsibilities of various Heads of Service, the Assistant Service Director, and the Director of Planning and Building Control at the Council. Emily describes her experience and highlights key takeaways below.

Service Introduction

I recently had the opportunity to shadow Fabien Gaudin, Director of Planning and Building Control and Neeru Kareer, Assistant Service Director at London Borough of Barnet. Being a Graduate Planner within an independent private town planning and development consultancy, it was interesting to gain insights into the operational mechanisms of the planning service of one of the largest London Authorities.

The planned activities included: Strategic Planning Manager Group meeting; Development Management and Planning Performance Development Manager meeting;

Pre-application meeting; Regeneration Tour; and Local Plan Policy Update meeting. Each of these are discussed in turn below.

Upon arrival, I received a warm welcome from Fabien and was given a tour of the office. We engaged in an initial conversation that delved into what distinguishes Barnet Council and explored his personal career journey within the Council. From working with predominantly Northern Authorities, it was interesting to realise the considerable difference in resourcing of the planning service. Fabien explained that the planning team includes in-house expertise such as an ecologist and viability assessor. He emphasised how their input positively contributes to the advancement of applications. I found this an interesting comparison to some of the resource strapped authorities I deal with across the North West who are outsourcing more and more of their work to contractors, or, when they do have inhouse experts, their workload is incredibly, and increasingly high.

Throughout my time with Fabien, I was able to quiz him on his experience and gain valuable insight as to how best to progress my career. In particular two pieces of advice resonated most with me;

  1. Make your own space for the role you wish to pursue;

  2. Never under value your abilities.

Strategic Planning Manager Group Meeting

Following introductions, the Strategic Planning Manager Group meeting was my first activity of the day, where I shadowed Assistant Director, Neeru Kareer. Neeru chaired the meeting, prompting updates from various senior planning managers within the Council. It was particularly interesting to note how the Authorities balance their Local Plan and the London Plan and this allowed me time to reflect on what the relationship may be like in Greater Manchester if and when the Places for Everyone plan is adopted. The discussions proved insightful to understand the Council’s approach to aligning their policy position with the London Plan in instances where their Local Plan is not prescriptive. This was particularly interesting when discussing co-living schemes. It was concluded that schemes should be assessed on a site-by-site basis, with the London Plan acting as a ‘fallback’ position.

A key takeaway from the London Plan will be the application of hierarchy and understanding what is accepted as ‘general conformity’ between the Local Plan and the PfE. At Regulation 19 stage (the stage before the draft Plan is submitted to the Secretary of State for an Examination in Public) the Local Authority must request the Mayor’s formal opinion on whether the plan is in general conformity with the London Plan. The Mayor will provide an opinion on general conformity within 6 weeks from the date the request is made. The Mayor can also provide opinion at any time during the course of plan preparation and likewise planning authorities can request an opinion at any time. I guess we will see whether any similarities are noted as PfE advances in its adoption process.

Development Management and Planning Performance and Development Manager Meeting

Next on the agenda, was a session with Andy Bates, the Head of Development and Josh McLean, Head of Planning Performance and Development. Through this meeting we reviewed a number of applications within the Borough, and it was interesting to see how the Council resource these types of projects. A ‘logical’ best practice emerged from this meeting: the Council’s transition from area-based teams to a unified development management team. This strategic shift enabled officers to collaborate towards one common goal, and have the ability and expertise to lead on any case across the Authority. Furthermore, insights into the Council’s scheme of delegation were fascinating; notably, only 5% of their applications go to Planning Committee.

Given that 95% of applications are not heard at committee, I also asked how their junior members gain experience at Committee. I was reassured that the team regularly undertakes mock planning committees. As a follow-up question, I asked about the direct influence on meeting statutory targets. While both Heads of departments alluded to potential delays in complex, as well as discharge of condition applications, overall the process appeared to improve the determination timeframe of an application. On reflection, it would have been interesting to inquire about the influence on approval rates.

Pre-application Meeting

In the afternoon, I sat in on a pre-application meeting concerning a resubmission of a full planning application for the redevelopment of single residential plot into two large executive homes. The application had been previously refused due to inappropriate bulk and massing relative to the context of the street. Since I typically represent a client in this scenario, it was interesting to take a step back and assume more of a passive role.

Ultimately, the applicant asked the Council what would be acceptable in terms of scale and massing, for which they provided clear guidance to follow. This led to a favourable resolution where the applicant can address design concerns.

Regeneration Tour

I received a tour of Colindale’s regeneration area before the day concluded, exploring areas once occupied by the Aerodrome. The shift in material quality from the first to the later phases of the development was of particular interest, revealing insights into the durability of materials used. With the planning permission date in mind, it will be interesting to observe how the Council addresses issues which are now apparent, such as embodied carbon, in the later phases which will require substantial demolition. I also drew comparisons to other schemes I am working on which the delivery will span a number of

years. This will inevitably result in an advancement of materials science and understanding as well as evolving architectural preferences which will allow these regeneration areas to grow and respond to the context.

RTPI Chief Planners of Tomorrow: Text
RTPI Chief Planners of Tomorrow: Image

Local Plan Policy Update Meeting

The day wrapped up with a Local Plan policy update meeting. This was to ascertain the application of emerging policy in the determination of applications and advice given at pre-application stage. It was interesting to observe the Council’s proactive planning for this to be assessed by an Inspector at Appeal, and therefore they needed to adopt a consistent approach now which could be justified at appeal.


Overall, it was an invaluable experience to gain insights into the public sector and the role of senior members within the planning service, and I would highly recommend all young planners to pursue this opportunity with the RTPI.

RTPI Chief Planners of Tomorrow: Text
RTPI Chief Planners of Tomorrow: Image
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