Planning for Success: An Interview with James Delafield, Associate Director at Woods Hardwick


In this blog we shine a spotlight on James Delafield, the latest addition to Woods Hardwick’s esteemed Planning Team. Recently appointed as Associate Director, James brings a wealth of experience and a fresh perspective to our team, infusing new energy and strategic thinking.

Sharing insights into his new responsibilities, James opens up about the essential skills he brings to his role, the projects he’s already passionate about, as well as providing a glimpse into his career journey, the rewarding aspects of his job, and his future aspirations at Woods Hardwick.


As an Associate Director in Planning, can you describe your role and responsibilities?

I am responsible for pretty much all aspects of a project which would include winning new work, managing client relationships, co-ordinating teams of consultants, as well as leading in the preparation of planning applications, appeals and site promotion work. It covers the full scope of what we provide as a service.

There are projects that I work on independently, and others that I will work on with the Directors, Senior Planners and Planners in our Team. I also collaborate with a number of the other divisions within Woods Hardwick, working closely with our Architects on a range of projects; our Engineers who specialise in flood risk and drainage, as well as transport related issues, and lastly with our Surveying team.

What attracted you to Woods Hardwick and how has your journey been since you have joined?

Having spent most of my planning career working in Bedfordshire and the surrounding counties, I’ve known of Woods Hardwick for a long time as they’ve established a reputation as one of the leading consultancies in the area I’ve been operating.

When I was approached by them, I was delighted that they were interested in me. Having learnt about the company, I was immediately attracted by the range of projects they are working on, as well as having an opportunity to play a leading role in growing the business further. Since joining I have been warmly welcomed to the team and have settled in really quickly. Having largely worked at home in my previous role, I have welcomed being back in an office environment on a more regular basis, which has helped me quickly build relationships with the team.

Woods Hardwick is a great company to work for; they have a really active social committee that organise lots of events which has helped me meet colleagues across the wider business. I’ve also enjoyed being part of the Golf Society, which gets together after work and plays twice a month at a local golf club.

How has your previous experience prepared you for your new role as an Associate Director and what inspired you to pursue the career you have today?

Like many Planners, I studied geography at university and then went into planning from there. My initial job was in minerals and waste planning at Bedfordshire County Council, and I was drawn to this particular area because it was related to my interest in the built and natural environment. There was also a family link as my grandfather used to run a business that operated a number of quarries in Bedfordshire, and so it was great to be able to case manage applications for quarries that my grandfather’s business had started. I was responsible for the planning of the on-going work, as well as the restoration of those sites, which I found really interesting.

After working in minerals and waste planning for 7 years, I felt like it was the right time to broaden my experience, and so I moved into a planning role within the private sector where I was able to focus more on residential and commercial development and develop consultancy skills. I was soon given the opportunity to work on some large and quite complex planning applications, some of the biggest projects the company had secured. I also played an important role in securing new work for the business. So, I feel that the combination of my previous experience of working in Bedfordshire, and my career progression through a similar size planning consultancy has placed me in a good position to hit the ground running here at Woods Hardwick.

What do you think sets you apart in your field?

I’ve been fortunate enough to work with some great Planners during my career, and having the opportunity to learn from them has really helped me develop skills that I have been able to apply to my day-to-day role.

Given the types of applications that I’ve managed throughout my career, many of which were for quite large and complex projects, I feel that I have developed an expertise within this area. For example, when I was working in the public sector I was involved in an application for a particularly large energy from waste plant in Bedfordshire, which was determined at a national level. The application was made shortly after a new regime was established for dealing with Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIPs), and was therefore one of the first to go through that process. I was involved in the pre-application discussions and also during the examination period, in terms of coordinating the council’s response and attending examination hearings. We also spent some time in Parliament as well, as a Joint Committee of MPs and Lords was appointed to make the final decision.

Tell us about some of the key projects you’ve worked on since joining Woods Hardwick?

I’ve spent quite a bit of time so far on initial appraisal work for clients, looking at new sites and providing advice on the prospects of securing planning permission for development, alongside preparing planning strategies for achieving this.

One project that I am excited to be getting involved with is Bedford River Valley Park. It’s a mixed-use development proposal that includes a water sports lake and the delivery of approximately 1,000 new homes and a primary school. It is a project which Woods Hardwick has been involved with for a number of years, and large parts of the site incorporate a former sand and gravel quarry that I was responsible for when I was a minerals planning officer.

What areas of your role so far do you find the most rewarding?

I get a buzz from achieving successful outcomes for clients, whether it be securing planning consent at the end of the process or a local plan allocation. As there are so many challenges in the planning system it can often be a slow, unpredictable and frustrating process. It’s become even more so in recent years, with many local planning authorities stalling on the decision-making process, and also with increasingly well-organised groups opposing development through the use of social media. Often planning committees are pressurised into refusing schemes against officer recommendation.

Therefore, navigating a proposal through the process feels even more of a challenge now than when I started, and I suppose more of an achievement when project goals are met.

What are your short-term and long-term goals at Woods Hardwick?

In the short-term, as I settle into the business I want to continue to build relationships with my colleagues and our clients. Longer-term I am keen to play a significant role in growing the business, be it winning new work or assisting colleagues less experienced than myself with their professional development. Given my experience with working my way up in a similar sized planning consultancy in my previous role, I like to think I could help others with their planning careers.

What do you think are the key qualities for success in your field?

As it can, at times, be a slow and frustrating process, patience is key. You also need to be adaptable and resilient, as inevitably there will be curve balls along the way that you need to deal with, and often quite quickly. It’s extremely important to be able to anticipate issues arising and be prepared to respond quickly with advice to clients on an appropriate way forward.



Our experienced planners, like our Associate Director, bring a wealth of knowledge and a proven track record in managing a range of projects and securing successful outcomes. Whether you need assistance with planning applications, site promotion, or navigating challenging regulatory environments, we are here to help you achieve your project goals. Contact us today to discover how we can support your vision and drive your project to success.