"So what are you going to do on a wet afternoon in winter once you are retired?" asked a colleague at work when I told him that I was leaving my job as head of planning at Halton Borough Council almost two years ago.
"Well Planning Aid of course" I replied more in hope than confidence as I wasn't really sure just what was involved or how my experience would count.
Today is a wet (and cold) afternoon in winter and here I am writing about my experiences of Planning Aid England which have been more interesting and revealing than I could have imagined.
I've always believed that the planning system was created and has evolved to benefit people and communities and should be understood and used by all people to improve their living and working environment, not just the experts immersed in their jargon and complex policies.
Planning Aid England has an important role to try and make the planning system better understood and accessible and become a useful tool for communities to influence development decisions and plan making. Its other great strength is that advice from a Planning Aid England volunteer is not only free but also is impartial.
In my time with Planning Aid England I have discovered that I've much knowledge and advice that is very useful to people whom I have met who don't have a clear view of how the planning system works. The trick is to be able to strip away the jargon and the complex wording and procedures of the system and give clear impartial advice. Volunteers can help people focus and strengthen their concerns and objections using relevant planning policies and legislation.
I have discovered that I've much knowledge and advice that is very useful to people who don't have a clear view of how the planning system works.
As a volunteer I've met local people from all over the North West, other Planning Aid volunteers from all over the country, been on conferences in Leeds, Liverpool and Derby, public consultation events in Knowsley, Trafford and Bury and have been trained in delivering a course to community groups on neighbourhood planning.
Also I have discovered a rich variety of involvement in the world of planning that has surprised me. As the momentum of neighbourhood planning builds, the involvement of Planning Aid England will also grow and I'm looking forward to having plenty to do on a wet afternoon, morning or evening at any time of the year.
Interested in volunteering for Planning Aid England?
Please see our How to apply page.