A young London planner who would remain anonymous blows the whistle
Young planning officers often work within creaking and under-resourced local authority planning departments. Here, a recently graduated planning officer tells Building what life is like at the sharp end …

"Working in a planning department in a London borough has its advantages and disadvantages. The advantages are great because you can gain a vast amount of experience very quickly from dealing with lots of large-scale, high-profile, interesting development applications. But the downside is that you are often placed under severe pressure from agents and developers because of the under-resourced planning system.

"Young planners are also still expected to deal with householder applications such as extensions and loft conversions while dealing with the large developers of large housing schemes and mixed-use developments.

"The government sets planning departments eight weeks to determine each application, which I believe is a good thing, but it is often difficult to meet the deadlines due to the sheer volume of applications received at any one time.

"There's a huge skills shortage and a symptom of this is that within most London authorities half the planners are temporary workers from New Zealand, Australia, and South Africa. These people come to England with degrees from their own countries, often set themselves up as a business with the Inland Revenue and then pay reduced income tax, paying business tax instead. The councils often pay these foreign workers around £10-15 an hour, which can add up to a lot, and they normally only stay for a few months after a lot of time and effort has been spent training them and equipping them to do the job. These people rarely show any loyalty or dedication and the money spent on recruiting and training them could be better spent on training young people in this country into developing a career. The Catch-22, of course, is that these workers are needed in the short term and without them the system would not be able to cope.

"The Royal Town Planning Institute could do a lot more to attract graduates into the profession. There are a lot of local authorities that would be prepared to pay for the graduates to train to do a second degree part time so that they can receive a professional planning qualification. There is talk of paying graduates' student loans off when they enter the profession and this can only be a good thing. But maybe the government should also offer incentives to graduates with a few years' experience within the job to help keep them in the profession – retention of young planners is a big problem.

"A balance needs to be struck because private planning consultancies are always looking to poach good, young planning officers from local authorities, luring them with much higher salaries. Working for the council has many benefits such as a good pension scheme, holidays and flexi-time. But it is very difficult to work shorter hours when your workload is so high. "Local authorities can have very stuffy images and another down side of the system is that it is full of corruption and political motives. It is true that councillors have a final say in the determination of applications in their committee meetings but it is the planners who work hard to present a balanced view of the situation before it gets to that stage. Councillors do try to influence decisions but it is up to a new generation of planners to maintain the profession's independence and legitimacy."