24 February 2020

Alumnus Brian Bailey visits Department

Brian Bailey studied in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning from 1982 to 1985. He spent 32 years working in local government, before going freelance. He spoke to undergraduate and postgraduate students about his experiences in the planning.

Alumnus Brian Bailey visits Department

Where did you begin your career?

I began my career as a graduate planner at Durham County Council in 1987 and I’d encourage new students to look at similar schemes. Councils took you on because of the way you were trained and the way you thought, bringing new blood into the organisation. Many graduate schemes still exist for planners. Planning organisations welcome students’ curiosity.

Why did you choose to study at Sheffield?

I’d never been to Sheffield before I came here. I picked Sheffield because of the course. It was human geography-based but a bit more applied, which I liked. Sheffield seemed to be a great city to come to for that sort of thing and the institution had a great reputation.

The breadth of the course was incredible - history and heritage, urban economics, architecture. Urban studies gives you a slice of everything. I’d look at things with an urban planner head on and see things which others couldn’t see - I knew a bit about everybody else’s stuff. We also had some great field trips. I remember going to Bristol harbour and discussing the idea of city centre living, which wasn’t very common at the time.

What key skills did you develop on the course that you use in your career and why are these important?

To understand the breadth of disciplines, team-working, to be logical about things and break things down. I can break things down and put things back together again. I can see logic in confusion. I can see big picture and detail, strategic and operational.

What key advice would you give people considering applying for the course?

Don’t be disheartened by the news - it looks like there’s not great career prospects but you have a huge demand for planners, in terms of succession planning - new places need to be filled. There is a new focus on reinvestment in infrastructure, which needs to happen. Planning systems may change, but there will always be a demand for people who can manage the urban environment. Make sure that you stay fresh and you stay marketable - it’s important to get a commercial head on you.

How has planning changed since you studied at Sheffield?

Planning has changed a lot in my time, from grant-funded, publicly-funded, government-led approach to being enabled using private funding and commercial processes.

How is planning going to change in the future?

Planning has to stay fresh. We live on a small island - there are huge pressures and strains on the country in terms of infrastructure needs and low carbon demands which weren’t there when I was studying here. Planning might look very different in the future in terms of how we use our homes and how we use our space. And that’s really exciting.

We may well see denser city centres, which presents challenges for planners and potentially opportunities for the rules to be torn up. We might look at a continental model. Home ownership may plummet, and not everyone will be buying 4 bedroom homes. So there are huge challenges, and somebody has to plan that.

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