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Town Planner

town planner

Town planner

Tell me about it

Town planners sometimes known as spatial planners, work to find a balance between the conflicting demands for housing, industrial development, agriculture, recreation, the transport network and the environment, that will allow appropriate development to take place. They prepare long-term plans, examine proposals for new developments, listen to the views of interested parties, including conservationists, builders, industrialists, farmers and residents, and give professional advice to decision makers such as government officials and local councillors.

Planners may have to deal with problems inherited from the past, like ancient road systems not designed to cope with modern traffic. They must also try to forecast future trends, such as increased need for housing.

The work can involve confronting very difficult situations, considering all the issues and striking the right balance. A new factory, for example, might provide new jobs but destroy a wildlife habitat. In some cases, the best solution is too expensive, so planners have to fit in with financial, political and social pressures. This can sometimes mean trying to implement national planning policy at a local level, such as, for example, the current preference for building on brownfield sites. 
Some planners specialise in such areas as historic buildings, conservation, landscaping or land reclamation.

Entry level

The most popular method way into town planning is via a degree in Town and Country Planning, which incorporates a specialised diploma qualification. It is also possible to study for a degree in a different subject and follow this with a postgraduate course. A third route involves distance learning for the Joint Distance Learning Course in Town and Country Planning. All courses must be accredited by the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI).

The minimum requirements for a degree course are two A levels/three H grades and three GCSEs/S grades (A*-C/1-3), including maths and English, or equivalent qualifications. Subjects like geography, economics and social sciences are particularly useful. Courses take four years full time, or five years for sandwich courses, which include experience in a planning office. The postgraduate planning qualification takes two years full time or three years part time. The entry requirement is a good first degree in a subject such as architecture, geology, geography, ecology or statistics.

The Joint Distance Learning Course in Town and Country Planning requires A levels or equivalent qualifications, or a relevant first degree. Students study at home at their own pace.

The content of courses varies, and you should spend some time exploring the spatial planning and specialist elements of courses before you apply.

Making the grade

After qualification and two years' relevant practical experience in planning, you can apply to become a member of the RTPI.  As a member, you would be required to update your knowledge and skills through continuing professional development.

Training and experience as a town planner can open up careers such as industrial promotion, environmental management, market research, property development and data processing. Alternatively, you could progress through related specialist areas, such as urban design and conservation, but would normally need additional training or substantial experience. You may have to change employer to gain enough experience to qualify for promotion.

Personal qualities

As a town planner, you should be committed to achieving the best possible quality of life in your local area without causing undue damage to the environment.  You would need to communicate effectively with a wide range different people and to listen to their conflicting needs and interests before forming a balanced view. Your job would involve writing clear reports in language that can be easily understood and you would at times be required to work under pressure to meet tight deadlines.  You would have to speak at public meetings and would need to be persuasive or assertive if your audience is hostile.

Looking ahead

Like the construction industry generally, planning has highs and lows reflecting the state of the national economy. In the downturn of 2008 to 2010, the building sector shrank considerably and with it opportunities for town planners.  The industry is slowly recovering, although growth is forecast to be no more than moderate in the decade to 2019. The economic climate has created uncertainty for employed planners, those who run their own practice and graduates looking to gain employment, leaving little doubt that the jobs market will remain challenging during 2012.

The environmental field is a growing area of work, offering increasing opportunities for professionals to become involved in the planning process for environmentally sensitive development schemes.

Alternative suggestions

Other possibilities might include architect, cartographer, civil engineer, economist,
landscape architect, local government administrator or rural property surveyor.

Take-home pay

In the public sector, starting annual salaries range from £16,000 to £28,000, rising with experience to £30,000 to £45,000. Chief planning officers, heads of departments and directors can earn between £55,000 and £80,000, with an average salary of about £64,000. The higher salaries in these ranges are more likely to be found in London boroughs or local authorities in the South East.
Pay in the private sector is generally comparable with that in the public sector. There are no set scales and individual salaries are usually a matter for negotiation with the employer.


Town planners in local government work 35 to 40 hours a week, but they have to work outside office hours on occasion, for example for public meetings. Working in a consultancy, hours can be more variable.

Sources of information

Royal Town Planning Institute:
Local Government Careers:




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