Fancy a career in Planning? Graduate Planner, Ben McShane, explains how!
Ben McShane joined Woods Hardwick as a Graduate Planner at the height of lockdown.
He explains how he is settling in, the exciting times ahead for the Oxford-Cambridge Arc, and what to expect if you are considering a career in planning.
Did you always want to become a planner?
Initially at school I wanted to be a physiotherapist. As a keen sportsman and enjoying all the sciences (especially biology) it seemed like a natural progression. I had always enjoyed geography at school, and when I started my A-Levels, I had a fantastic teacher who really grabbed my interest. From here I fell in love with the human aspects of Geography and how important it is. This led me to study Geography and then Human Geography at the University of Hertfordshire.
What sparked your interest in planning?
It all started at University with the modules and subjects that really captured my interest. Understanding the origin of settlements and urban life in Mesopotamia to the history of European migration and how we congregated and built life as we know it today, really captured my attention. I am also extremely passionate about climate change and becoming more sustainable, going into planning, you can have some influence in implementing changes to how people live.
You joined Woods Hardwick during the COVID-19 lockdown – what has it been like and what are you looking forward to as we emerge back into regular work life?
Joining Woods Hardwick has been such a blessing; I couldn’t have asked for more friendly and welcoming people. The last few months at university were extremely stressful, being isolated in my room away from family, working as hard as I could to get a first (which I am proud to say I did!). The office is fully open with flexi-working, and I am back to enjoying that face to face interaction. I thrive off being around people, and especially when they are as talented and as experienced as my colleagues, who I have so much to learn from.
How have you found the transition from university into work?
I feel it has been quite a smooth transition. Having completed a one-year work placement as a Trainee Planner at Dacorum Borough Council and then completing my third and final year at University, I managed to maintain a routine and work ethic that has stayed with me. My managers and colleagues completely understand the role I am in, having been there themselves, and always help me learn and gain experience in my Graduate role. As someone who is always keen to ask questions no matter how silly they may seem, it’s comforting how supportive my colleagues are and willing to explain even the simplest of things to me.
What types of projects have got involved in so far and what aspects have you enjoyed the most?
I have been involved in a fair few projects so far, with some of the most interesting ones being when a site comes in from the very beginning of the development process. Researching a site and understanding whether it has the potential for planning permission and development is very exciting. The joy of planning is that every site is different, and a client’s exciting ambitions for a site make for interesting work. Some of these include ‘Grand Design’ style carbon neutral homes in the countryside, developments with electric charging stations and even sites that will provide 100% affordable housing for those who need them most – these projects all reinforce why I got into planning in the first place.
Any stand out projects so far?
A project that I wasn’t involved in but stands out for me, is the appeal win by the team for an unallocated greenfield site in Colney Heath in the Green Belt. It has been a subject of many articles recently, and was a very important and exciting project, not only for Woods Hardwick, but for planning across the country.
What do you think are going to be some of the key themes that the planning world will need to consider in the next few years?
One of, if not the main reason I got into planning was the impact I believe new developments can have on the course of climate change. True sustainability of housing, in terms of carbon neutrality and the way we develop going forward here in the UK, has so much potential. Yet we still have some way to go as sometimes it can get frustrating when little things could be implemented in developments, but aren’t for some reason.
Living and working as a planner in Bedfordshire is very interesting at the moment – there is so much potential for the whole Oxford-Cambridge Arc region. I am from Kempston and most of my friends live in and around Wootton and Marston, where new villages are set to be built, and a new trainline running towards Bletchley, which I catch regularly to watch Milton Keynes Dons (no digs please). The area has so much potential, with some lovely lakes and green spaces that could be utilised massively; why not create a sustainable, eco-friendly exemplar of developments, with these new villages in such a unique location? I think that would be refreshing to see.
What would you recommend to anyone considering a career in planning?
I think the key trait I learnt at University was the ability to have confidence in myself. Often, I found myself being incredibly critical and harsh on myself, but I have managed to turn that around and now give myself a lot more credit! I think it’s the same with most people in all honesty, have confidence in where you are and how you got there, is not an easy road, and so if you’ve managed to face difficulties before and overcome them, then be proud and project that.
In terms of standing out, especially as a Graduate Planner, I think employers want someone who not only has a good understanding of the field but someone who is willing to show that determination to learn and be the best they can be. As well as this, it’s important that you are a good fit for the team – are you easy going, understanding and willing to actively engage with your colleagues? If so then you I think you will stand out (note that I am no expert).
What does the future hold for you?
For me, it is all about progression, and this is an achievable aspiration in a practice like Woods Hardwick if you apply yourself. To enter the RTPI scheme I will have to be in a planning role for two years, so after this year I will be able to join as a member and push towards that accreditation. As an ambitious and motivated person I want to be the very best I can be so this, naturally, is the path I am now on. In terms of future studies, I’m not entirely sure, I was originally going to do a Masters in Sustainable Planning, but the opportunity at Woods Hardwick came along and fitted perfectly into what I am trying to achieve, so for now it’s time to get my head down and crack on.
To find out more about the many career opportunities at Woods Hardwick, visit our Careers page.