I have learnt the sustainable perspectives on development for economic, social and environmental objectives

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Jason Mak
Planning Officer, North Somerset Council
MSc Urban & Regional Planning
USP graduate Jason now works as a Planning Officer for North Somerset Council, in this interview he reflects on his time at Sheffield and the help he received in order to obtain his current role.

Can you tell us what a typical day in your role is like?

Flexible working 3-10.5 hours between 7am-7pm
Morning: highways, heritage and tree surgeries with specialists on different weekdays
Afternoon: weekly team meeting for sharing interesting planning applications and all pre-application advices
Any daytime:

  • Planning history and constraint research by GIS, Idox and Microfiche
  • Providing pre-application advice meetings and reports
  • Optional site visit
  • Email and phone communication with agents, applicants and councillors
  • Weekly one-to-one with line manager for case discussion
  • Decision-making on planning applications by planning policy balance
  • Drafting delegated reports and conditions for planning applications, legal determination, and advertisement and listed building consents
  • Handling appeals in written representation and hearing

What attracted you to this role, and what aspect do you enjoy the most?

As I have worked in private consultancy, I would like to try the public sector to have a deeper understanding on local context and practice. Starting from a planning role in local council can build a solid knowledge base of English planning system, which helps a stable career development in local council or even support the planning skill-based work in private sector.

The wider exposure in a unitary authority attracts me to this planning role, which provides a more extensive range of regional services than district councils e.g. highways authority, mineral planning authority, schools and libraries. Communications with relevant service teams in same council are much more easier than two-tier councils.

The location also attracts me to the role because its places are mixture of urban towns and rural villages with mostly constrained by green belt, flood zone, protected species, area of outstanding natural beauty or conservation area. I enjoy the discovery of complex dwellings and special cases like hospitals, schools, parks, quarries and even well known Thachers Cider, First Bus depot, RNLI lifeboat station and Bristol Airport. The office is in a seaside resort town Weston-super-Mare, which I enjoy to have my lunch break at the sandy beach on summer days.

What skills did you learn during your degree that you use in your career?

In the module of Spatial Planning Systems, I have learnt the appeal statement writing skills and critical analysis skills in the group assignment. For both private consultancies representing the appellant and the local planning authority in councils, writing statement of appeal case is an unavoidable job duty. “Planning Systems in the United Kingdom – An introductory guide” is really helpful on planning procedural questions for your local planning authority interviews.

In the module of Perspectives on Planning and Development, I have learnt the sustainable perspectives on development for economic, social and environmental objectives. For determining major and minor planning applications, planning balance between harms and benefits would require to consider these objectives.

In the GIS elective, I have learnt the map creation, research and analysis skills in the GIS software, QGIS. Although local planning authority would use GIS just for checking planning constraints, understanding on GIS can help spatial data collection and analysis for planning determination.

Why did you choose to study in the School of Geography and Planning at Sheffield?

This School has an employment team arranging website and newsletters for planning job searches. These can help understanding the planning job market in England. The programme can choose the local or overseas focus modules, which can suit the future career locality. The modules are suitable for non-social science background students like me to pick up the planning studies.

What advice would you give to someone thinking of studying/looking for work in your field?

Although urban design skill is not essential in the role, improving urban design and architectural senses through studying would help the work in local planning authority for judgement on character and appearance.

Planning officer is a board role which each job advert would be focus on different planning functions, and please ask the council’s contact before application if the job description is unclear. Other than my role of development management on determining planning applications, planning roles could be planning obligations, enforcement and planning policies.

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