We are celebrating Chrissy Farrer’s first year at Planning House! To mark the occasion, we asked her to put together a quick blog about her first year with us…
When I started at Planning House in June last year after working as a planning officer in local government for many years I thought it would be either just more of the same but ‘on the other side’ or completely different. As it happens, it has actually been somewhere in between.
The issues are the same but presenting them with reference to case law and appeals, and sometimes focusing on the overall aims of the Development Plan rather than just the wording of specific policies, is quite different … and thought provoking. Indeed, I have learned a lot in the last year from looking up case law and previous decisions. I feel that I have a lot more time to undertake such work in my private sector role than I ever did in local government. One case, for example, caused me to spend quite a few hours understanding the operations occurring at a ‘farm’ and then assessing whether such met the planning law definition of ‘agricultural’or not. I found that some parts of the same operation did, whilst others probably did not. In local government I would have quickly judged that it was not agriculture at all and then stuck with that unless challenged.
Another real change has been the need to pull lots of information together and collaborate effectively with others in order to achieve this, and also often liaise significantly with the applicant. This is the opposite to local government where the case officer generally receives a complete application package and then starts assessing the information before them. However, my local government experience has really helped me understand what each application requires validation wise and what the key planning issues of each project will be and how to approach them. I have been able to use my local government ‘know how’ to approach case officers sensitively and achieve approvals from suggested refusals, often with reference to case law.
The other obvious difference is ‘finding’ clients but once ‘found’ I don’t have any difficulty in building strong relationships with them all. I was always the type of local government planning officer who was quick to engage with the applicant or agent and I suppose that this now reflects in how I engage with clients.
Being able to get out and meet clients in person over the last few months has been much better than trying to do everything over Zoom. For example, I visited a mosque in Leicester recently for a meeting about a rebuild scheme. This involved the mosque committee, representatives from the Council’s planning team and local Councillors. We sorted out such a lot in just a couple of hours and the tour of the site will make the next stage simpler. A few weeks before this I visited a farm to discuss a new dwelling scheme instead of implementing a conversion approval. As we walked around the site, opportunities and constraints became far more apparent than when we had been sat around the kitchen table discussing plans just moments before. I was able to see various solutions and the client said that he found my approach ‘refreshing’ so I feel I must be doing something right!
I do wonder whether I offer something a bit different to clients in that I am very analytical and can therefore spot different ways of resolving things, and alongside this I am very responsive to client’s needs. For example, clients know that I respond very quickly when they email me. Sometimes a detailed response will be waiting for them in the morning because my very flexible hours at Planning House mean that I often do some work late in the evenings.
At Planning House we all work from home and we all work very flexible hours – no core hours and no set days. This allows me to plan my work effectively over the week taking account of my client’s needs, team meetings, my home life and even the weather! I often choose to take some hours off in the day when its sunny and then pick up again later in the evening or the next day.
The flexible working and the trust placed in me is what I find truly ‘refreshing’. I think Planning House is ‘ahead of the curve’ in this respect.
Homeworking can be a little lonely sometimes but having my colleagues on hand either by phone, Whatsapp or Zoom means I always have someone to give a second opinion on a planning issue or just for a chat. I do miss the ability to sit around a desk looking over some plans with other planners but I guess it’s not the end of the World given modern technology.
My next challenge is to really embrace networking and get out to various local in person events, even if that means going on my own because I’m based in Derby whilst my colleagues are based in the North East. So, if you see me entering an event in the Midlands and looking a little lonely. please come over and say hi!
Find out more about Chrissy and the rest of the Planning House team >> Meet The Team