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Julian Jackson: Why I became a Planning Aid England volunteer

I have been a town planner for over 42 years, but I only became a Planning Aid volunteer 10 years ago. That is probably unusual, as many practitioners volunteer to do Planning Aid much earlier in their careers. For me, my day job as a local authority planner for 30 or so years was too full-on for me to spare the time to volunteer. Then, at the age of 57 everything for me changed. My local authority role came to an end, and I started life as a part-time freelance planner, mixing in different professional circles. 

That was 2012 when the Neighbourhood Planning provisions of the Localism Act formally commenced and for the first time parish/town councils, and specially set up Neighbourhood Forums, could prepare statutory development plans. The RTPI, through Planning Aid England (PAE), took up a key role in helping to advise the substantial numbers of communities wanting to produce Neighbourhood Plans and needed many planner volunteers to help deliver that support.

At the same time as becoming a PAE volunteer, I also signed up for the training to be a Neighbourhood Plan Examiner. However, through that work I quickly realised that my efforts in this field would be better spent nearer the start of the plan making process than changing plans near the end of their preparation.

Through association with other freelance planners, I was invited to join the Planning Aid Task Group for my RTPI Region, and I soon gained an insight into how support was being delivered to local communities not just in terms of Neighbourhood Planning, but also in respect of Local Plan engagement and development management matters.

My motivation to be a Planning Aid volunteer

The key thing I realised was that I had a great deal of planning knowledge and experience to ‘give back’ to help ordinary folk get their heads around the planning process. To be honest, doing that made me feel good, and particularly at the start of my career change when I was short of freelance paid work, it gave me a good sense of worth and purpose.

It is great to be appreciated and receive wholesome thanks from the people that you have helped, you don’t get that so much in a local authority planning job!

What is particularly key to helping communities is the chance to enable positive outcomes from an early stage. By doing so you can steer people away from wasting their time going down dead end alleys and instead help them to appreciate early on what can be achieved, actions that will make an effective difference to their planning issues. Planning Aid support is focused on more economically-disadvantaged communities and people who cannot afford to pay for planning advice, so it is particularly nice to help those on modest financial means.

The most enjoyable aspects

It is great to be appreciated and receive wholesome thanks from the people that you have helped, you don’t get that so much in a local authority planning job! Through working on the Regional Task Group, it is also gratifying to be able to offer supporting roles to more junior volunteers when organising Planning Aid support. Such volunteers may only have a simple role to play – such as note taking – but by being involved, observing what is happening they can quickly gain very valuable first-hand experience to take back to their day jobs

Why not become a Planning Aid volunteer?

So, there we have it; being a Planning Aid volunteer can provide great assistance to people in real need of planning advice and be personally fulfilling for volunteers at the same time.

Click here to find out how you can get involved.

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