The performance of England at Euro 2012 sums up planning for me at the moment. Improvement since South Africa 2010, but starting with low expectation, win the group without really playing well, terrible ball retention but look like one of the best teams without it, resolute defence of the way we play and despite a couple of potential new stars , the old guard likely to hang around just a bit longer.
I awoke to 2012, as at the start of most years, with a sense of anticipation and optimism that the year brings forth new riches, not necessarily financial (although they help), but also personal and professional. That the worst financially might be over (oh how wrong was I), publication of the NPPF would settle a few things, Localism and Neighbourhood planning would bed in, enterprise zones, discussion round a new Planning Bill in Wales...
I move into the second half of 2012 with a sense of foreboding. Reports of massive potential cuts to local government services (and ergo planning) to 2020 must make people shudder; Im no believer in coincidence and ponder if the announcement of the announcement of locally set fees in a little ante room outside the real gravitational pull of PLANKON12 is linked; PINS taking the (legally advised) stance that Inspectors cant fix the duty to co-operate once a plan is submitted for examination: PINS always good at drawing attention to the elephant in the room. The list goes on...
But the real purpose of the blog is to tell you about the greater threat.
Simon is, I guess, just in his 40s; experienced in local government, as a Planning Inspector and in consultancy - took the plunge and set up his own Practice. He has a family and mortgage to support. Could handle the recession at first, jobs still on the board, the very slowness of the system churning work in. Simon knows DC and Policy, understands their pressures and is, so far as he can be empathetic to it. As time creeps and money supply (and cash flow) in the real world evaporates, Simon finds keeping a small company going demanding, stressful, combined with apparent oblivious attitudes to the real world difficulties within the Planning Authorities he deals with.
Simons response has this week been to call it a day. Not only consultancy, Simon is giving up planning altogether and opting for a new path, having been accepted onto a post grad-course into a new career. Driven no doubt by personal factors too but to paraphrase Simon, "business isn't good and the uncertainty.."
His sister, Michaela: A young, personable, imaginative, approachable local government, planner, whom I was delighted to mentor to RPTI membership. Seduced by the charms of a handsome young man and the prospect of a few months panning for gold in the warm sun of Australian optimism, her LocGov employers were only too delighted to off-load her salary and on-costs for a while. Next month, she returns to the UK, will pack her belongings into a container and return to OZ for good.
Simon and Michaela, you will be missed, and the very best of luck to you both. Keep in touch.
My Council is currently seeking authority wide voluntary redundancies:, planners and building controllers included. The panic in the eyes says 'What the hell are we going to do?". The realisation, NO, the real world - hits home. Elsewhere, training budgets are cut and student numbers dwindle. Planning graduates twiddle thumbs in anticipation of fighting over the very few new opportunities out there.
All the while we tinker round the edge of process, Simons and Michaela's drift out of the profession; all the while new blood cant get in. Thus, nothing puts my sense of foreboding into better perspective than the loss to the profession of good people, great planners.
I fear, dear reader, that is the real Elephant in the room. RTPI... where are you?