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Becoming a Chartered Town Planner in the Environmental Sector

Mike Higgins BSc(Hons) CEnv MCIHort CHort MBNA MRTPI FArborA, is a Chartered Horticulturist and Chartered Environmentalist working as a Tree and Landscape Officer at Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority and Tree Consultant at Brecon Beacons National Park Authority

My route to Chartered Town Planner has been quite indirect. I’ve spent the last 20 years working in various fields of environmental landscape management, from voluntary landscape surveying and conservation, to coordinating environmental activities and biosecurity at an activity centre, management of the landscape in terms of infrastructure, and most recently the strategic and statutory management of protected landscapes through legislation and policy within national parks.

I have worked in the planning sector for the last 14 years as a Tree and Landscape Officer for Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority, and more recently been fortunate enough to also work for Brecon Beacons National Park Authority as their Tree Consultant. 

Working for two of Wales’ three national parks is not only a very fortunate position to be in, but it has also enabled me to have a positive impact on the environment of these protected landscapes. Working in this sector has identified the importance of having planning knowledge, as it is intrinsic to the majority of my work.

Combining planning and environmental professions

I have found that planning encompasses a wide array of specialisms, with all facets of the environmental profession being linked directly or indirectly to planning. Environmental professions such as arboriculturists, horticulturists, landscape architects and ecologists are regularly involved in planning from applications through to shaping policy and legislation. This is why I felt that it was essential to be involved professionally with the RTPI, and I would encourage all persons in the environmental sector to do the same. 

With the support of my line managers, I worked towards my RTPI membership and I initially achieved recognition in the planning sector by attaining my Associate membership in 2016.

This was a significant personal achievement as, although I do not have a formal planning qualification, I was able to meet the competences required for membership of the RTPI based on my acquired knowledge, experience and regular training and CPD.

The A-APC guidelines require an additional two years’ of work experience from the point of becoming an Associate member before applying for Chartered status. However, I am in part-time role, so this was spread across an extended period. It was also my personal choice to extend this time further to gain more work experience in order to meet the A-APC competencies. In total it was another four years until I chose to apply for Chartership in 2020.

Applying for chartership

I found the whole application process very in-depth, and at times it was complex trying to show how my particular environmental experience tied in with the core principles of town planning. However, the assessor feedback from my initial unsuccessful attempt at attaining chartership was incredibly thorough, and helped me to re-consider the application a second time.

After the initial attempt, I stepped back from the process for about 12 months before resubmitting, something which was very positive to my approach the second time. I decided to rewrite the entire application (something I probably wouldn’t have done if I hade re-applied immediately), taking guidance from the assessors feedback and paying more attention to the guidance notes than I probably did the first time. 

My advice to anyone involved in planning is to become a member of the RTPI, as it is internationally recognised and respected institute and provides regular support.

With this second submission I was still lacking on a few points, but overall it was a huge improvement, and I had the opportunity to write an essay on these outstanding issues, which was duly assessed and – I am very happy to say – met the requirements for election to MRTPI.

My advice to anyone involved in planning is to become a member of the RTPI, as it is internationally recognised and respected institute and provides regular support. When working towards professional membership the guidance notes are invaluable, and taking the process slowly to ensure that you are adequately linking your environmental knowledge is key.

The Associate membership is also an excellent way to gain recognition in planning as well as understanding how your specialism sits within environmental planning. When I began to use the post-nominal (AssocRTPI), other professionals in the environmental sector spoke to me about their interest in joining, and I encouraged them accordingly.

Now that I have been elected as a Chartered member whilst still working in environmental planning, I hope that it can further highlight the relevance of RTPI membership to other environmental professionals, so that more of the sector will join and hopefully work towards chartership.

This overlapping of specialisms will hopefully lead to more opportunities for professionals to combine their environmental expertise within the planning field, as well as further improving their experience and training, and encouraging multi-disciplinary professionals.

Throughout my membership I have found that the RTPI has been supportive, as well as providing opportunities for environmentally relevant training. During the application process there was also regular support and I received incredibly valuable feedback during every step to help me to reassess – and where necessary – restructure my approach, which is one of the many reasons why I consider my professional involvement with the RTPI to be essential for me as an environmental planner.

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