top of page

Your place in planning: Job opportunities in town planning

Updated: Dec 9, 2023

There are a huge range of job opportunities in town planning. But what kind of jobs are available, and what's in it for you?


Planners are employed across the public and private sectors in a wide range of different roles. Not everyone who works in planning is a planner. People from a range of different professional and educational backgrounds who have a key role in planning projects. The enormous diversity of planning roles across the public, private and third sectors means whatever your background and interests, if you are good at working with others and problem solving, there is likely to be something that suits you.



 The image shows three people with career paths in planning thinking about their first job or their next one in shaping places for the benefit of people and the planet.

Working in planning will give you the opportunity to contribute to making better places for people and the planet. You won’t single handedly solve them, but you will have a role in contributing to the biggest problems we face, such as tackling climate change, affordability of homes and the biodiversity crisis. For a flavour of how the planning system works and types of planning projects you might be involved in see our explainer articles. This might help you to contextualise the different planning types of planning jobs we've highlighted below.


Planning jobs in the public sector

Councils are collectively the biggest employers of town planners. Led by locally elected politicians (councillors), these local planning authorities offer a range of jobs in planning.


Planning professionals, working in councils, have a central role in enabling the vision of councillors for the future development their areas by providing technical advice to help them make decisions.


There are opportunities to work as a development management officer in a council. In this role you assess planning applications and make recommendations to councillors or determine on their behalf whether planning permission should be granted. There also are jobs for enforcement and compliance officers. In this type of role you are concerned with making sure that developments have the right planning permission and don't deviate from what was permitted in the way they are built or used. Jobs drafting policies and requirements for specific development sites to go into a local plan for the area are also available in council planning policy teams.


There are range of other specialised planning roles to be found in councils too, for example:


  • You could get a job registering and checking (the 'validation' process) that planning applications have been submitted correctly using your strong admin skills, organisational ability and attention to detail.

  • You could get a job administering and monitoring the collection of developer contributions, such as Section 106 and Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) payments using your ability to navigate legal documents , excellent numeracy and customer service skills.

  • You could lead on monitoring the types of planning applications received and their start and completion dates on sites and using this to inform new local plan policies using your research, numeracy and analytical abilities

  • You could be involved in exploring how to digitise the aspects of the planning service or use tech more effectively to automate and re-design processes using your coding or product and service design skills to create innovative new ways of working.


There are also opportunities in the wider public sector in central government or government agencies or in universities. The NHS, for example, employs planners who support the development and management of the NHS estate.


Planning consultancies and developers

The private sector is a major employer of planners and other professionals working on planning projects. You could work on submitting planning applications for new development for housing, commercial development, hospitals and more.


These roles are available in a range of settings including:


  • Planning departments of some the of largest international multidisciplinary engineering firm or property advisory firms

  • Larger national planning consultancies or more local small to medium sized enterprise (SME) practices

  • Major housing developers, commercial developers or utility providers


There are also opportunities to work in consultancy roles supporting local planning authorities with the preparation of their local plan or providing specialists advice on planning applications, such as on development viability, built heritage or ecology matters.


Risks and rewards

Choosing a career in planning gives you the opportunity to work on addressing the biggest challenges facing the people and the planet today. But working in planning can make you unpopular because you will have an impact the way people use and experience places and people may have different views on how places should be developed (or not). You might need a thick skin as planners can come in for very public criticism and challenge; for example, Diddly Squat Agreement Over Clarkson's farm proposals.


“You know, these, how can I put it, not terribly bright people in planning departments, just don’t understand what they’re messing around with.

Planning is often misrepresented in the media and by others. But the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI), like the American Planning Association , are battling this misinformation. The recently launched 'It Takes Planners & You' campaign aims to unite RTPI members, the built environment sector and the public in recognising and celebrating the crucial work that planners undertake daily.


The plight of ‘unloved’ planners has even caught the attention of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Housing Market & Housing Delivery. Their report Hacking Housing: Nine supply side hacks to fix our housing system error, highlights a need to make planning sexy. Michael Gove, the current Secretary of State with responsibility for planning is leaning hard into the superhero trend and promoting the idea of an avengers style "super squad" as part of the long-term plan for housing.


Working in planning is probably not going to be sexy (although people are different). You definitely won’t get a cape with your laptop and spandex outfits are optional. Besides, the whole superhero vibe can go to one's head and lead to bad planning (you know those places - they work best if you are just flying above them). But as people who already work in planning will tell you, it is useful and important work and can be hugely intellectually stimulating.



You will make a contribution as part of the wider planning and development sector. You might enable someone to be able to move into a great new home they can afford to live in independently, or to access enjoyable natural spaces near home or work. You might make sure entrepreneurs find the right space to start a business, or increase the chance of someone getting a nursery place for their child within a reasonable distance. You will contribute to the way places and cities work and how people experience them.


Working in planning means you have the potential to make a positive difference. The work you do will impact not just the way people get to use places, but also the way they experience them.


There are numerous practical benefits to considering a career in planning too, notably the availability of a range of jobs across the country. Pay? Well it’s certainly not Jay Z money, but you can do alright. The Planner, the official magazine of the Royal Town Planning Institute, reports that more than a quarter of chartered town planners earned £55,000 or more. For senior roles, salaries can be in excess of £100,000.


In common with many other professions, wages have not exactly been soaring recently. The RTPI, in their State of the Profession Report, 2023 has highlighted that wages have declined. But RTPI CEO Victoria Hills has been working relentlessly to ensure the government and others recognise the value planners bring and to increase the level of investment in planning, so hopefully things will get better on the wages front too in the near future.


Qualifications

You can qualify as a planner through a range of routes, see: RTPI Chartered Planner. Apprenticeships may offer a way in too, see: RTPI Apprenticeships. If you already have an undergraduate degree in a non planning subject, there are one year post graduate courses accredited by the RTPI available across the country. There is also a route to chartered status via the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) which has a planning and development 'sector pathway': RICS Planning and Development Pathway.


Qualifications and membership of a relevant professional institute will give you an edge in a job search and will open up the range of jobs open to you. However, not all jobs in planning will require a specific planning qualification or a chartered membership of the Royal Town Planning Institute. You might already have important skills from your current role such as good communication and relationship management skills and the ability to solve problems and manage projects effectively - skills which are essential to working in planning.


Job in planning for non-planners


You don’t even have to be a town planner to work in planning. The sheer diversity of work in planning means there are job opportunities in town planning for people from a wide range of professional backgrounds:


  • You could be a subject expert in a team that helps with the preparation of applications, their assessment or creation of specific planning policies guidance such as as a transport planner, heritage and conservation specialist, ecologist or specialist in Environmental Impact Assessments and Sustainability Appraisals. This could be in a local authority, in the private sector for a consultancy or for a national statutory government agency such as Highways England or Transport for London, Natural England, Historic England, Sport England or the Environment Agency.

  • If you have, or are pursuing, a legal qualification, you might consider a role as a planning lawyer working in either the public sector for a local authority or the private sector for a law firm or barristers chambers.

  • You might consider becoming a Planning Inspector with the Planning Inspectorate examining Local Plan and decision makers of a large variety of planning and environmental matters. You read that right, you don’t have to be a planner to be a planning Inspector. The Planning Inspectorate recruits from a range of professional backgrounds, including engineering, architecture, built heritage, environmental sciences, landscape architecture and law, see: PINS – Careers as an inspector

  • You could work on planning reform or national planning policies in central government, in the Department of Levelling Up and Communities or another department.

  • You could be a Councillor and sit on a planning committee and determine planning applications or as the lead for preparation of the Local Plan.

  • You could be a be a minister responsible for the whole planning system. This particular job opens up very regularly, sometimes every few weeks, and you don’t even need to know anything about planning at all to be considered for the role.

Learn More

If you are considering a career change or looking for your first planning role, you might find Finding the right planning job for you helpful. It’s a short and informal online course led by a qualified planner and is full of tips to help you find your place in planning.


Ready to work in planning?

If you are ready to be part of a team that tackles complex planning projects or just want the opportunity to annoy the likes of Jeremy Clarkson, where doing so is justified in planning terms, check out the latest planning jobs on the ‘Work In Planning Jobs Board’.




Comments


Commenting has been turned off.
bottom of page