The RTPI Young Planner of the Year for 2016 is Emma Lancaster.
Emma is an Associate at Quod, based in Leeds, where she represents a diverse portfolio of clients and works on a range of planning projects. She was Chair of RTPI Yorkshire Young Planners during 2015 and is currently Vice-Chair of RTPI Yorkshire. Emma will be speaking at this year's Young Planners Conference in Belfast.
The Young Planner of the Year Award aims to seeks out the brightest young planners involved in the profession. The judges descriped Emma as "committed, proud and passionate about her role in the planning profession".
Career in Focus:
An Interview with Emma Lancaster
How and why did you embark on your planning career?
Whilst studying for my BA in Geography at University College London, I attended a lecture by Sir Peter Hall. Listening to him, everything that I enjoyed studying and was passionate about seemed to "fit together". I hadn't ever really heard of Town Planning before then, but from that point onwards I knew it was the ideal career for me.
My first job was in the public sector. I was appointed as a Planning Officer at Hambleton District Council shortly after leaving UCL. I was part of an experienced Development Management team.
What does your current job involve?
My current role at Quod is incredibly diverse. I represent a very wide range of clients, from housebuilders to retail operators and infrastructure providers. I advise on a wide range of planning issues, providing a bespoke service to suit any requirement, though I specialise in the larger or more complex projects requiring a strategic approach. I am currently involved in the promotion of development sites through various Local Plans; the preparation and submission of planning applications; appeal work and Environmental Impact Assessment.
What skills and knowledge do you need to be successful in your job?
Clients turn to Quod for specialist advice that is at the cutting edge of planning. To consistently provide quality advice, I need to make sure that I keep fully abreast of changes to policy, legislation and case law. I also need to be able to apply my knowledge to lots of different situations. Team work is a crucial part of this; I work with colleagues with industry leading expertise and knowing when to turn to them for advice is important.
I need to be able to see planning from the client's viewpoint. Quod have a highly commercial approach but, as a company, we understand that we need meaningful engagement with communities, stakeholders and decision makers in order to achieve support for development proposals. Top quality communications skills are therefore a must in my role, sometimes I can find myself talking to clients, local residents and DCLG all in the same day!
Finally, organisation and time management skills are essential. I manage a number of complex projects at any given time. All are at different stages, and are following different timetables. I need to carefully project manage all of them, to make sure that the full team are undertaking work in accordance with the agreed programme.
What are the best and worst points about your job?
I love the diversity of my job – it's rare that I have two days the same. I have the opportunity to work with lots of different people. Now that I am with Quod, I also get to work (and travel) all over the country. It's also not a purely desk-based job – in a typical week I get to go out to meet clients, attend meetings, and visit sites at least a couple of times.
I enjoy the challenge of delivering complex projects but if there's a "worst part" about my job it is those occasions where not all team members deliver their contribution to a project on time. Delays to consultant inputs often have knock on effects on the delivery of the project, and inevitably it ends in a time crunch at critical deadlines. I've developed my project management skills over time though, and thankfully this is generally a rare occurrence!
What made you enter the Young Planner of the Year Awards' category?
The RTPI Awards fro Planning Excellence are a great opportunity to promote excellence in the industry and the work that planners do. I see the Young Planner of the Year category as an opportunity to celebrate what I've achieved in the early stages of my career. I also intend to use the award as a chance to promote the profession to others, especially non-planners and young people who might be considering their career options.
Do you feel you have gained something from the experience?
Most definitely! It's already provided me with opportunities to have a voice in debates (for example, watch out for an article in the next issue of The Planner on key asks of Sajid Javid and Gavin Barwell) and I was able to take part in a recent meeting with Helen Hayes MP at the House of Commons.
What advice would you give to students and recent graduates about to start their career in Town Planning?
Seek out mentors and don't be scared to be taken out of your comfort zone – make sure you grab opportunities for new experiences with both hands (no matter how daunting they might seem at first). I owe a lot to the mentors that I had early in my career. I didn't have formal mentor relationships with any of them, but they shared their passion for planning with me and gave me the opportunity to get involved in their work whenever they could, as well as providing me with opportunities to stretch myself.
Also, get involved in your region's Young Planner events – they're a fantastic way to meet other young planners, making new friends and sharing experience along the way.