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Career profile: Town Planner

Model used for town planning in BerlinWhen hundreds of thousands of people live in a city, someone has to work out where to put everything. That’s the job of town planners.

Town planners are employed by the local government to work out how towns, villages and cities should be built and developed. This means balancing lots of different requirements, such as industry, housing, transport and the environment.

The best known element of town planning is planning permission: anyone wishing to build a new building, or make big changes to an existing one, must apply for permission first. However, town planners are responsible for many more decisions than this.

As well as working out what the town requires and balancing the demands of different groups, there are lots of other things that town planners need to take into account:

  • Law: There are laws about certain elements of town planning. Some of these will restrict what planners can do, while others will give them new powers.
  • Government policy: The government will sometimes make recommendations for areas town planners should focus on. For example, when “green belts” were introduced they were not required by law but were encouraged by the government.
  • Resources and budgeting: It doesn’t matter how good your plan is if there isn’t enough money, space, time or material to put it into action.

Town planners need skills including:

  • Research and data analysis, to understand the needs of the town
  • IT skills, for things like design or geographical information systems (GIS)
  • Communication, in order to write reports, present recommendations and negotiate with businesses and other interest groups

What training do I need?

The Royal Town Planning Institute accredits courses for town planners, and some universities offer accredited courses as an undergraduate degree. There are also accredited postgraduate degrees. A geography degree is likely to help you get on a RTPI-accredited course, but other degrees also offer a way in, including economics, sociology, law or politics.

It’s also a good idea to get some planning experience before you apply for an accredited course. You could try to get work experience or a summer job in your local authority’s planning department, for example.

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