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An English planner in Australia

20 August 2018 Author: James Turner

My great Australia escape started in 2009. After five years as a local government planner in Yorkshire, I was wounded by yet another round of government austerity and was freezing through another savage north of England winter. I found myself longing for a change. 

What I discovered during the early discussions and negotiations was how highly a UK degree in town planning is regarded by employers, and while the requirement for chartered status is less strong than in the UK, that recognition is growing.

I had developed an exotic image of Australia in my head, albeit limited to episodes of Neighbours in 90’s, rugby league and two Crocodile Dundee movies. I certainly had no knowledge of the planning system over there.

As much as I dreamt of bumping into Charlene Robinson (google Charlene Robinson Neighbours 1988), trials for the Brisbane Broncos, and camping trips with Mick Dundee, I knew this wouldn’t help me in my search for a job and ultimately a new life.

So I did what all dreamers do. I took to the internet and started researching everything I could about Australia - from its planning system and visa requirements to procedures to getting a driver’s licence, job scene and the country’s geography.

Town planners in demand

One discovery made all the difference.  I learnt that Australia was in desperate need for town planners. This meant that ‘town planning’ was included in what was known as the ‘Skills Shortage List’, which gave more favourable points for visa applicants with those skills. All I needed to do to secure a visa was to obtain a position in a ‘regional’ area of Australia.

The ensuing “to leave or not to leave” dilemma was tinged with more than a hint of sadness. I would be giving up a secure job, it was a planning system I knew well and, despite the savage northern winter, I was working in a team I had become close to, with many colleagues I was happy to call mates. It also meant moving 12,000 miles from my friends and family. But something inside told me that I simply needed to realise my great Australian escape. Mick Dundee and the Robinson’s were waiting.

After posting my CV on several Australian job seeker websites, I was inundated with enquiries from prospective employers.  I had clearly not anticipated how quickly Australia needed planners.

Location, location, location

With little knowledge about Australia and the Australian planning system, I knew I would stand a better chance in securing a job by sticking to the world of local government. Some approached me and soon afterwards I was having informal chats with councils in far-flung and mysterious sounding places, such as the Torres Straight Islands, Liverpool Plains, Mildura and Warrnambool.

I learned that the Torres Straight Islands were located midway between Queensland and Papua New Guinea. Even with my new sense of travel and adventure, I felt that even this would be a bridge too far for this most northern of Englishmen.

After posting my CV on several Australian job seeker websites, I was inundated with enquiries from prospective employers.  I had clearly not anticipated how quickly Australia needed planners.

The Liverpool Plains Shire proved to have very little connection with either Anfield or the Beatles. It was all dairy farming and a mere 400km drive from Sydney and 800km drive from Brisbane. Liverpool Plains was quickly crossed off my list.

Similarities with the English system

The regional towns of Warrnambool and Mildura in the State of Victoria proved to be far more attractive propositions. For one thing, the state of Victoria’s planning system was surprisingly similar to the English system. It is a plan-led system based on a document called a Planning Scheme (the equivalent of a Local Plan), and it has the Planning and Environment Act, the equivalent of the UK’s Town and Country Planning Act.

James TurnerAfter several late night discussions with both councils it was the odd sounding regional city of Mildura that stole my heart. With a job offer and a new employer willing to pay for my travel and temporary accommodation, my mind was made up and in October 2010 I set off to start a new life as a Senior Town Planner with Mildura Rural City Council in north west Victoria...

What I discovered during the early discussions and negotiations was how highly a UK degree in town planning is regarded by employers, and while the requirement for chartered status is less strong than in the UK, that recognition is growing.

Guest blogs may not represent the views of the RTPI.

Stay tuned for part two of James’s blog which will talk about what working as a planner is like in Australia.

James Turner

James Turner

James Turner studied town planning at Sheffield Hallam University and became a Chartered Member of the RTPI in 2016. He has worked in both the private and public sector in the UK and Australia, currently as an Associate Chartered Town Planner at planning consultancy Spawforths in Wakefield.