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Aleksandra Iachinskaia: Public sector and female leadership

Aleksandra Iachinskaia is an Assistant Planning Consultant at Gerald Eve LLP


At the end of April 2022, I seized the opportunity to glimpse behind the curtain and witness a working day in the life of a Chief Planner. For that I have to thank the RTPI Chief Planners of Tomorrow initiative, which champions leadership in planning through organising a work-shadowing experience for Young Planners. 

I have applied to deepen my understanding of planning governance and decision-making and to evidence female leadership. Preston City Council has kindly agreed to host me on this occasion.

I was welcomed by Chris Hayward, Director of Development and Housing and was introduced by him to John Crellin, Head of City Growth and Regeneration; Natalie Beardsworth, Head of Development Management and Building Control; and James Mercer, Principal Planning Officer.

The day began with an insight into Chris’s day-to day work; and transitioned into a series of events: a tour with him and John around the ongoing projects in town; the team’s monthly executive meeting; an online Central Lancashire Local Plan Management Team meeting; and a committee agenda meeting with Natalie and James. I’m happy to say, the programme has exceeded my expectations.

Aleksandra meets the team

Ups and downs

One of my key takeaways has been a greater appreciation of the role and responsibility of Chief Planners in attracting financial investment into the city. Securing funding through government initiatives is crucial for a small Local Authority like Preston. Having received £1.38 million from the European Regional Development Fund and £2 million from Lancashire County Council, John’s team managed to regenerate the public realm in the town centre. Under John and Chris’ guidance, I’ve been taken around this brilliant project and many others that are emerging.

Chris didn’t hesitate to admit though that the wins don’t come to them easily. Both Chris and Natalie stressed the challenging nature of the Council’s organisational structure, wherein the Council is heavily reliant on the County Council consultees, i.e. Highways and Ecology, which often delays the process. Natalie also added that the issue of delays is deeper rooted than many people realise. For example, because applicants often try to resist signing a S106 Agreement in hope of making the terms better for themselves, the overall process can sometimes be delayed by up to a year.  

John Crellin, Natalie Beardsworth, Aleksandra and Chris Hayward

Female leadership

As part of the day, I was also particularly keen to hear from a woman leader in planning, which Chris kindly organised for me. At the meeting with Natalie we discussed her role as a Chief Planner. I learnt about her career story, where she highlighted some principles that helped her to get to the top table:

  • Be good at what you do
  • Surround yourself with supportive people and
  • Look for solutions

Take aways

For me as a young private sector professional, it has been a terrific experience to get a taste of the ways the Local Authority works under the guidance of the whole executive team. I would strongly encourage any Young Planner to consider signing up for this programme, whether you are currently working in the public or private sector.  

To get involved in the Chief Planners of Tomorrow, you should be a registered RTPI member, a member of the Young Planners network and a graduate, Licentiate or Chartered member with no more than 10 years’ experience post-qualification, having not previously participated in the programme. Applications are now open. 

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