The Chair of the Northern Ireland Young Planners' Committee is Kim Boal.
Kim is a member of the Northern Ireland Branch Executive Committee and Planning Officer at Mid and East Antrim Borough Council. In her role as Chair of the Northern Ireland Young Planners' Committee she led the organisation of this year's Young Planners' Conference in Belfast.
Career in Focus: An interview with Kim Boal
How and why did you embark on your planning career?
While studying geography at school, I was always interested in the human aspect of geography and understanding how economic, social and environmental factors impact the world in which we live. I decided to pursue this interest by completing my BSc (Hons) in Environmental Planning at Queen's University, Belfast. Following this, I specialised in a MSc in Urban and Rural Design. My first job was as a Professional and Technology Officer within the former Planning Service (Department of the Environment NI) where I worked in a regional Development Plan team.
What does your current job involve?
As a Planning Officer within Mid and East Antrim Borough Council, I am part of Local Development Team which is currently tasked with bringing forward a new Local Development Plan for the area. My role is to ensure that transport and infrastructure requirements are reflected and integrated in emerging local planning policy. I also work and liaise with local council members, key Government consultees and other organisations to ensure they are involved at each stage of the Local Plan preparation process.
What skills and knowledge do you need to be successful in your job?
In order to engage and liaise with the wide range of stakeholders involved in the Local Development Plan process, good communication skills are essentials. A key feature of planning reform in Northern Ireland has seen the statutory obligation for Local Development Plans to have regard to the Council's Community Plan. As a result, partnership working and understand is integral, along with the ability to recognise and understand community needs and requirements. A further key aspect of development planning is the ability to assimilate and analyse substantial volumes of information to develop a robust evidence base for informing both strategic and local level policies. Owing to significant legislative change in Northern Ireland, it is vital to have a sound knowledge of not only primary and secondary legislation, but national planning policy.
What are the best and worst points about your job?
Owing to the significant planning and administrative reform changes in Northern Ireland, it is an exciting time to work in a newly established local authority and having the opportunity to be part of the team tasked with bringing forward a new Local Development Plan. As the existing area plans have been operational for a considerable period of time, it is a great opportunity to be part of a process which will ultimately shape strategic and local policy.
The one downside about the job is finding the balance between making a sound policy decision whilst having empathy for those who may be impacted/affected by that decision.
What made you volunteer to lead the organisation of this year's Young Planners Conference in Belfast?
I have been a proactive member of the RTPI and the Young Planners since university. As Chair of the Northern Ireland Young Planners and Committee Member on the Northern Ireland Branch Executive Committee, I was in the natural position to take forward the organisation of the Conference. I am extremely passionate about the role young planners can play in our profession, so being able to lead and direct the conference organisation was an absolute honour and privilege.
Do you feel you have gained something from the experience?
Absolutely! I have enhanced my skill base over a short period of time, with the leadership role allowing me to make responsive and appropriate decisions. It has been extremely satisfying to deliver and witness a conference and forum where young planners openly engaged and discussed key issues facing the profession. I have also learned not to rely on the Northern Ireland weather for study tours!
What advice would you give to students and recent graduates about to start their career in Town Planning?
I would advise any student and recent graduate to remain patient in finding employment. It is important to remain perceptive and open to opportunities – even if this involves moving further afield, working in a planning-related discipline or volunteering.
I would also encourage all young planners to become involved in their local network. It's a great way to share planning knowledge and experience, socialise with other young planners, and to express views to the Institute.