What is Planning?
In government, business and everyday lives, we need to decide priorities and plan to achieve our aims. 'Town and Country Planning' is a specialised form of planning. It is concerned essentially with the development and use of land and the long term protection and improvement of our environment whilst meeting society's economic and social needs. This is referred to as 'sustainable development'.
The origins of Town and Country Planning as we know it today stretch back to the concern for public health among the slums of the last century and to the 'Garden Cities' movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Our present town planning system dates from the 1947 Town and Country Planning Act, although a great deal of legislation since has added to and refined the system. Town and Country Planning is now a distinct discipline, or profession, with its own laws and professional body, the Royal Town Planning Institute.
Planning is also part of our democratic governmental system, so that Planning Laws and decisions are ultimately made by Parliament or the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions and, at a local level, planning decisions are mostly taken by elected Councillors, with the professional planning officers advising them or acting on their behalf.
What areas does it cover?
There are four interlinked aspects to the work of Wigan's Planning Service.
By preparing Development Plans and giving guidance on where and how new development, for example houses, factories and roads, should take place.
Controlling new development
By deciding whether or not planning permission should be given for new buildings or land uses.
Protecting and improving the environment and regenerating the economic and social life of communities
Through, for instance, reclaiming derelict land, carrying out environmental improvements and conserving natural habitats and promoting programmes of Urban Regeneration, such as City Challenge and the Single Regeneration Budget.
Concern for the global environment and quality of life for future generations
The planning system has to take on board issues such as global warming, energy conservation and sustainable development. The legislation and our understanding of these issues is still developing. However, the Planning service is at the forefront of establishing Wigan's Agenda 21 strategy for the next century.
What sort of careers are there in the planning and associated professions?
Planning means doing joined-up thinking about places and then doing something about it. Planners help make neighbourhoods, cities and the countryside safe, healthy and attractive for people and investment, while respecting nature and the environment.
Planners know that the long-term matters. Walk down a pedestrianised street today and you benefit from the vision of some planner ten, 20 or 30 years ago.
There is a recognition in planning that 'everything affects everything else'. The way we develop settlements has an impact on the consumption of non-renewable resources and the greenhouse effect. Planners' ideas for 'sustainable settlements' offer a positive alternative to the nightmare of bladerunner cities.
Planners work closely with other professions especially in the field of environmental protection and improvement. We employ Landscape Architects, Ecologists and Conservation Officers doing very important and interesting work.
Planners put it all together - reusing land, orientating buildings to optimise energy efficiency, understanding the kind of decisions a developer has to make about whether to risk an investment, saving the habitat of the great crested newt from the line of a new road, whilst realising the road is essential for jobs and has to go somewhere.
This breadth of vision makes postgraduate planning education a more varied experience than a conventional first degree. Postgraduate planning students can learn practical skills and gain experience through working with community groups. Full-time and part-time students study together, learning from each other.
Planning is now an international activity and increasingly a focus for action at a European scale. Most postgraduate planning courses offer the chance to spend a semester in a continental planning school, through the Socrates programme, or to learn alongside visiting students. Some universities offer planning courses specialising in preparing students to work abroad.
Planning jobs are varied. Councils employ planners to analyse new development proposals, assessing their impact on people, townscape and the environment. Some work for developers or the private sector. Others work at a national or regional level, developing policies and broad-reaching plans to steer future locations for housing or shopping centres, or to target regeneration efforts.
Some planners work in cities where jobs and millions of pounds can hinge on their recommendations. Others breathe new life into remote areas, or work to ensure development respects natural habitats.
How to become a Planner
Route 1 - direct
Leave school with suitable A-levels (or equivalent in Scotland and Ireland). Get a place on a RTPI accredited planning degree course - usually three years. Take an accredited postgraduate diploma in planning or related subject - usually one year. Get a job in planning to meet the MRTPI practical experience requirements.
Route 2 - indirect
Leave school with suitable A-levels and take a planning-related degree, such as geography, architecture or economics. Take an accredited post graduate planning degree qualification - usually two years. Get a job in planning to meet the requirement for MRTPI.
Route 3 - the long haul
Leave school with A-levels and get a job. Enrol for the Joint Distance Learning MA/Diploma in Planning. Courses for the diploma are provided by the Open University and a consortium of planning schools. This route takes a great deal of time outside work and many years to complete.
For further information on training visit The Royal Town Planning Institute (external link).
How to become a Technician
Planning support staff are normally recruited as trainees ('O' level standard) or as Technicians (BTec National Certificate). Technicians may then pursue additional training to BTec Higher National level and with appropriate experience may be able to join the RTPI as technical members.
For further information on the Society of Town Planning Technicians visit The Royal Town Planning Institute (external link).
If you are interested in a career as a Landscape Architect contact The Landscape Institute (external link).
What is Building Control?
Building Control shares with town planning a concern for the quality and safety of new buildings, but it is essentially a separate system of control, with separate laws, regulations and procedures. In Wigan, Building Control is carried out by Building Surveyors working within the Planning and Regeneration Department, to ensure maximum efficiency and integration between the two services.
What areas does it cover?
Our Building Surveyors are responsible for ensuring that buildings conform to regulations on public health, safety, energy conservation and access for disabled persons. They do this through enforcement of the Building Regulations and allied legislation. Building Surveyors examine plans for compliance with relevant legislation and carry out regular inspections of the work on site to ensure that it is built correctly. They carry out this function on all types of work, from the smallest kitchen extension, to multi storey buildings, factories and town centre redevelopments.
In addition to their Building Regulation duties, our Building Surveyors also approve demolitions and carry out surveys of potentially dangerous structures. Stormy weather, fire damage or vehicle impact on a building often results in a building surveyor being called on to decide if the building is safe.
Building Regulations today are written in functional terms, that is, the Regulations state basic functional requirements. For example, Regulation B1 Fire Safety states:
"The building shall be designed and constructed so that there are appropriate provisions for the early warning of fire and appropriate means of escape in case of fire from the building to a place of safety outside the building capable of being safely and effectively used at all material times".
The Regulation is written this way to allow the building designed to use innovative up to the minute design methods to satisfy the requirements. They can and do take their lead from scientific thinking from around the world and fire engineered solutions are becoming commonplace, particularly in major developments.
Building Control bodies from around the world meet regularly to share best practice and assist each other in their common aim for a safer more sustainable building environment.
Our Building Surveyors must therefore have an awareness and understanding of a vast array of research development in all aspects of construction.
We prefer to be considered as part of the design team rather than just as regulators and we offer advice to designers on how they may satisfy a particular requirement of the Regulations.
A good Building Control Surveyor needs a logical approach and must be able to think on their feet. They will spend much of their day liaising with architects, designers, surveyors and engineers and need to be effective communicators and be able to relate to all kinds of people in many situations. They spend much of their time on site inspecting building work and must be able to provide immediate decisions for contractors.
Demolition and dangerous structures
In addition to their Building Regulation role, our surveyors also ensure the safe demolition of buildings in the borough. We are also responsible for assessing the safety of buildings and are frequently called on by the Fire Service or Police to advise on the stability of buildings following fire or impact damage. We provide this service 24 hours a day 365 days a year and regularly attend fires, gas explosions and vehicle impact damaged buildings (often in the early hours).
We inspect licensed premises, clubs, sports grounds and other places of entertainment to make sure that the means of escape is satisfactory. In this we assess the potential occupancy of a venue, make recommendations on the number, width and position of exits and advise on requirements for emergency lighting, fire detection and alarm systems.
Scaffolding and hoardings
We are responsible for issuing permits for the safe placement of these items on the public highway and must assess a variety of safety considerations before granting a permit.
Entry routes to Building Control
Entry routes to Building Control are varied, the minimum entry requirement for a trainee would be 5 GCSE's at grade C or above, followed by a BTEC Higher National Diploma or Certificate in Building Studies. This would be followed by a degree in Building Control with a final Assessment of Professional Competence taken before corporate membership of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors is achieved. Many of today's recruits enter with a degree and sit a further two papers in advanced building control surveying and fire studies before taking the Assessment of Professional Competence.
For more information on training visit The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (external link).