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Frequently asked questions

RTPI members have access to practical guidance, advice and information on a wide range of career and professional matters.

Below are examples of some enquiries we receive from members. Click on the links to see how the RTPI has helped. If you have a question you would like to ask please email careers@rtpi.org.uk

The informal guidance and information offered in these examples relate specifically to the circumstances described by the RTPI member concerned. They may not be applicable to members in similar situations, and therefore should not be considered as general RTPI advice.

Salary levels for planners

“My authority is looking to recruit a new director who will have responsibility for planning and regeneration. Does the RTPI provide details of staff salary levels?”

RTPI response: We annually monitor a sample of jobs advertised in Planning magazine, which includes job descriptions, person specifications, benefits and salaries. A sample of salary ranges advertised for director level posts within Local Authorities are as follows:

  • In 2013 a London Borough advertised a Deputy Chief Planner for £83,000
  • In 2012 a London Borough advertised a Director Planning Regeneration & Enterprise for £93,000, a London Borough advertised a Chief Planning and Regeneration Officer for £82,329-£94,446 and an East Midlands Council advertised a Corporate Director of Development for £120,000-£144,000
  • In 2009 a North West County Council advertised a Director of Strategic Planning & Transport for £98,000.

These posts vary due to the size/scale of the department. Salary levels reflect this.

I'm looking to restructure my planning service

"I am a Head of Planning and looking to make changes to the structure of my team to save money. I am keen to ensure some form of career development for more junior staff. I am looking for models/structures from other local authorities to help ensure that efficiency drives do not compromise our ability to offer career development opportunities. Can the RTPI help?"

RTPI response: We asked RTPI Learning Partners in the public sector how they ensure that career and professional development priorities are not compromised by the current climate of budget cuts and cost reductions. Their experiences have helped us develop an article ‘Maximising staff career and professional development opportunities’ which is designed to help other Local Authorities facing the same challenges.

Concern over criticism by local MP

“I believe my local MP has overstepped the mark in terms of their criticism of a proposed development (for which I am the agent). The MP also attacked the LPAs performance relating to the proposal. These comments were made at a public meeting and as such I feel that this is also a criticism of the planning profession. We are use to politicians ‘playing to the gallery’, but is there anything we can do as professionals to counter more extreme criticism?”

RTPI response: We occasionally receive enquiries from RTPI members regarding the behaviour of both elected members and MPs. Naturally we are concerned when any member of the RTPI has their professionalism criticised.

When similar circumstances happen to members employed within Local Authorities. We advise members to discuss their concerns over elected members with their line manager.

If you wish to pursue the matter with the MP further then we would suggest you follow the guidance on the Parliament website.

In addition, we do seek to inform and influence the thinking of politicians through our Politicians in Planning Association.

I am a consultant chasing invoices

“I am a planning consultant and find myself spending more and more time chasing invoices. What can I do to encourage prompt payment? Is there any guidance the RTPI can offer?”

RTPI response:We provide a number of guidance notes designed to support members in managing their practices more efficiently. This includes the following titles: debt recovery, collecting debts and interest on late payments. It is important that you advise clients of when you expect to be paid. Make sure your terms of business includes payment date(s), especially if you are undertaking a large job for a client, and need to ensure you receive paid installments. You might find it helpful to request payment before a piece of work, or part of a project, is complete. For example, when submitting an application or dealing with an appeal, make sure you’ve received cleared funds before submitting.

If you withdraw an application or an appeal once it has been submitted without the permission of your client, then you will be in breach of the RTPI's Code of Professional Conduct.

When all else fails then we also provide guidance on suing through the small claims court.

My job may be at risk

"I am concerned that my job may be at risk and so I am actively pursuing alternative employment. Am I entitled to leave to attend a job interview, or is this at the discretion of my employer (a planning consultancy)"

RTPI response:Having checked with the RTPI member’s Employment Law Helpline I understand that there is no legal entitlement to time off work to attend job interviews unless you are facing redundancy, in which case the situation changes. If you are not facing redundancy then any time off will be at their discretion. As an RTPI member you are entitled to free advice through our Employment Law Helpline, so do contact them direct for further clarification. We also offer guidance and advice to support members throughout their careers.

If you do not want your employer to know you are attending interviews then you may find that using up flex time or taking half a day's leave will be your only option. Good luck with the job hunting.

Client confidentiality

“I've a difficulty with ethics around client confidentiality. I have an architect client who I have worked with for a number of years. The architect was recently hired by a retired couple who wanted to redesign and rebuild their existing home. The retired couple are also occasional clients and friends of mine. The architect is aware of this.

The LPA is not happy with the new design and have asked the architect to revise the plans. The actions of the LPA were prompted by a mistake made by the architect, a mistake that he is keen to hide from his client. The architect has asked me to help. I advised him that his clients have two options to comply with the LPA. The architect decides to go with cheaper option, and discusses this with this client. He does not discuss the more expensive option which would retain an additional bedroom, therefore increasing the value of the house when built.

I think that the architect is reluctant to discuss both options. If he did then he would have to admit the mistake he made. I feel I should point this out to the client, especially as they are friends of mine, but I am concerned about client confidentiality. I suspect that they may contact me about this issue anyway. They know that the architect often consults with me on planning issues. What should I do?”

RTPI response: Be wary of discussing this issue without the permission of the architect as this could cause you all sorts of problems. Perhaps there is another way to resolve this? Have you considered emailing the architect strongly recommending that he advise his client of both options, and remind him that the client may well approach you for advice. The email may give the architect time to think the issue through.

Diplomacy and tact will be necessary, as the key point here is to persuade the architect to take a different course of action. The retired couple may not contact you, and decide to go ahead with the recommendation of the architect, but he needs to be aware that the possibility exists.

If the retired couple contact you then you could speculate with them on alternatives to the option that they have been presented with. Good luck!

How long should we keep client files?

“Does the RTPI offer any guidance on how long archive files should be retained before they are destroyed? We need to find space, and we’re not sure who provides guidance on this subject. Can you help, or point me to an organisation that can?"

RTPI response: With regard to archiving files we would suggest three things:

  • Before destroying any file consult with your insurers, as this will avoid the disposal of information which may prove useful in the unlikely event of an insurance claim.
  • If they contain any financial information then seek guidance from your accountant or accounts team
  • Coonsidering whether files may have any future use with staff training opportunities. There may be some large scale projects that may prove of interest.

The RTPI provides members with a wide range of free management notes, which aim to support them throughout their career. This includes information on filing and record management.

Do more planners work in the public sector?

“I’m researching the growth of planners working in the private sector. Does the RTPI hold any information on the ratio between public and private sector planners?”

RTPI response: A recent RTPI survey estimated that around 30,000 individuals are employed in the UK and Irish planning sector.

Approximately two thirds of this number (23,000) are RTPI members. We do not hold information on those who are not RTPI members.

With respect to RTPI members we estimate a 48% - 52% split in favour of the private sector. There are many reasons for this; we have seen the percentage of members in the private sector grow considerably during the last decade, but this increase relates more to the growth in the private sector, rather than a decline in RTPI members employed in the public sector.

We also know that, anecdotally, many private sector employers tend to place a higher value on professional qualifications than public sector employers. This is will also have an influence on whether some public sector planners choose to become professionally qualified.

Local Authorities asking for high levels of PII

"I am taking a career break from work to start a family. My employer (a Local Authority) is keen to retain me on a part-time self-employed basis. I have read through the helpful online advice you provide on starting in private practice . However, the problem I am faced with relates to professional indemnity insurance.

My annual income whilst working from home is unlikely to exceed £7000, which I understand will make me eligible for a low price insurance premium through the RTPI's preferred insurance broker.

Unfortunately my employer will require me to hold £5million worth of professional indemnity cover, and in addition, are asking that I take out public liability cover. The costs of the annual premiums for both insurances means that I will earn even less money! The point was that I thought I was doing them a favour! Perhaps I should offer my services elsewhere?"

RTPI response: The public sector is risk averse and often require levels of PII cover that do not reflect the level of risk. The problem is that this is largely an administrative 'tick box' exercise. As a 'contractor' you will be treated in the same way as a large organisation with a £multi-million contract to provide services on behalf of the authority.

Planning services can reduce contractor costs by taking a more flexible approach to PII. By retaining your skills you will help them deliver their planning service, and as a self-employed consultant you may well prove cheaper to hire than an agency planner, helping keep their costs down.

Why not try and negotiate the PII level with your employer? We publish details of recommended minimum levels of cover on our website which may help the discussion.

Hopefully your employer can apply a more sensible approach and come to agreement that suits you both.

Should I make direct content with an appellant?

“I am dealing with an appeal case where it appears to me that a meeting with a transgressor, without the presence of a solicitor, may resolve an enforcement issue without the need for a costly Public Inquiry. The transgressor's solicitor has written to us, stating that we are not to contact his client directly, and that all correspondence or contact with his client should be through him.

Would it be wrong, or in breach of the RTPI code of conduct, to contact the transgressor directly in an attempt to resolve the matter?”

RTPI Response: Your proposed action would not in itself be a breach of the Code, but the manner in which the action was carried it out could be considered unprofessional by the solicitor, and could lead to a complaint.

The best course of action would be to ensure that you have the backing of your line manager and relevant legal officer before acting as you propose. It is right that enforcement action seeks to resolve potential problems as positively as possible. We have consulted the National Association for Planning Enforcement’s committee and have listed their views below, which I hope will be of use.

  1. “There have been instances in the past where appellants have been able to resolve their differences directly with our team, despite their Legal representatives arguing that they should be contacted. Often issues have at least in part been resolved, which means aspects of the appeal can be resolved and agreement can be reached on areas of dispute. Where issues can be resolved without recourse to a public enquiry this should be explored. However I agree that the officers’ line manager should be informed and be supportive, with the Delegated Officer (often Head of Service) also made fully aware in case they have to deal with any complaints that may arise from such contacts. Given that legal Services usually are involved with public inquiry appeals, I would also agree that the relevant Legal Officer should be fully aware of this action.”
  2. “Common sense tells me that a 'phone call to the solicitor asking to liaise direct with the appellant would be the correct approach. If this courtesy request falls on stony ground I would follow it up with a letter to the solicitor, with a copy to the appellant, saying that you consider the matter could be ameliorated directly with the appellant using the usual terms of "public interest", "proportionality", "reasonable" in the text of the letter.”
  3. “In my council we often deal directly to applicants/offenders, which has made their agents unhappy. When they complained I was able to state that this action was carried out with the authority of the Department. I agree that support should be sought as a degree of comfort/protection. We have also sent letters to agents/solicitors and copied them directly to the applicant/offender to ensure that they were fully aware of our position”

Representing the council's decision at a hearing

“I am a Senior Planning Officer in a Development Management team. I have dealt with two recent planning applications, both of which I have recommended for approval to planning committee. The first application was refused, and the second is an appeal against non-determination, but the committee has indicated they would have been minded to refuse.

An appeal date has been fixed for a hearing next month and I am being expected to, prepare a statement in support of the Council's case for refusal and appear to give evidence on the Council's behalf. The appellants are fielding a Planning Barrister who will no doubt ask me my professional opinion, which has already been set out in two committee reports.I am seeking your guidance and your support as my professional body as to whether or not I should appear at this hearing on behalf of the council.”

RTPI response: There is no reason why you should not attend. As an officer of the council you are able to speak on its behalf and present their reasons for refusal. These are not your professional opinions.

Some RTPI members feel that this is an excellent demonstration of the planning system, with the local councilors elected to act in the interests of their community, and employed professional staff giving their professional opinion. The two can differ and this is nothing new.

However, it may be that your employer is sensitive about some decisions made by the planning committee, and you should therefore make them aware of your concerns.

The key issue here is whether you feel comfortable in the role that you are being asked to carry out. Under these circumstances the decision is with you and your employer. As a chartered town planner we are confident that you can carry out this role!

Accused of collusion with developers!

“Please can you help? I have a situation where my planning officers are accused by members of the public of colluding with developers (in this case disgruntled objectors to a planning application which was approved). These allegations are without foundation, but alarmingly seem to be supported by certain Elected Members. Needless to say this is a very difficult position that myself and my officers find ourselves in. Your advice would be greatly appreciated.”

RTPI response: Every so often we hear from members who find themselves in similar situations. It is unfortunate that some employers do not move quickly enough in support their staff when allegations (whether internally, from the public or in the media) are made.

We know the value of pre-application discussions with developers, but the public perception can misinterpret this as collusion. Planners should not feel singled out by this sort of behaviour, particularly when supported by Elected Members. Employees within Education and Adult Services departments occasionally receive bad press and internal criticism. Working in a public and political environment is one of the challenges planners have to deal with.

You might want to consider meeting with the relevant Elected Members to understand their concerns. Do they fully understand what happens during pre-app discussions?

To help strengthen your position you might want to consider the following:

  • Check with your employer (perhaps the personnel department, or chief executives monitoring officer) whether your Authority has a code or guidance covering officer / elected member relations (or anything similar). Guidance is usually provided to newly elected members on their role, standards, etc. What you are looking for is guidance on how your employer expects officer/elected member relationships to be conducted. Hopefully your employer will have useful guidance or standards that you can use and refer to when your services professionalism is challenged. Sometimes elected members overstep the mark. You are paid to deliver their planning service, not act as a vehicle for them to score political points. Professionalism works both ways, so always refer to such guidelines and challenge inappropriate behaviour.
  • Check with your employer on what guidance or support is offered to staff when allegations are made by the public. Sometimes this can be covered within guidance for an internal/external complaints procedure. Again, you can use this to challenge the more serious accusations or confrontational behavior.
  • Remind yourself of the RTPIs Code of Professional Conduct. Many employers respect such codes and it can prove a useful addition to your employers existing codes of conduct.
  • In the planning reception area publish these codes. You may also choose to develop your own simple charter of principles that you observe in pre-application discussions and publish these. Remember, by publishing this information you are not inviting complaints or criticism, it is an opportunity to educate the public, Councillors and colleagues about your professional commitments and integrity. Remember to keep all published information clear and simple! If you have favorable statistics regarding the performance of the planning service then this can help strengthen the message.
  • Unison may be able to offer or provide some useful guidance or information on how employees can defend their actions.
  • RTPI Awards - Have you considered submitting an award to the RTPI for either the national or regional awards? Every year the RTPI recognises the best within the profession, and if you are successful then display the certificate in the planning reception area, showing the public (or should we say customers) that you are an award-winning planning service. Are there any other award schemes that you would be eligible to submit a project to? Has the local media given a positive report on local developments? (perhaps the Council's PR function can help you with this).If so then again put it up for display - be proud of your achievements.

Do I have a duty to report breaches of planning?

“Are planners under any kind of duty (under code of conduct, etc.) to report known breaches of planning consent, developments without permission etc that they come across in a professional or personal capacity?”

RTPI response: There is no obligation under the Code of Professional Conduct to report the kinds of breaches you have described. However, it is inevitable that RTPI members will spot such issues whether they be at work or even on holiday.

If you feel that you should report a potential breach, then it may well be the case that the authority concerned is grateful for the information.

Application to committee without officer recommendation

“I am concerned that I have been asked to submit an application to committee without officer recommendation. The Council's own Code of conduct and Nolan report indicate that an officer's recommendation should always be done. What is the RTPI's view?”

RTPI response: It is clearly bad practice to make a judgment on an application that contained no supporting information, and no officer recommendation. However, we recognise that there may be local circumstances that would justify this decision.

You are right to be concerned and you should consider raising this issue with your manager, using the Nolan report, the Council's own Code and the RTPI's views to strengthen your argument. What are the reasons for not submitting a report? Surely the planning committee would want to know why? And if the request came from the Committee then they need to be aware of the potential consequences of their actions. Without such reports the Council may expose itself to criticisms of inconsistency and/or inadequate consideration, which might constitute mal-administration.