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A Day in The Life of a Planning Officer

Alex on the phone during working hours at Oyster Partnership recruitment agency talking to a planning officer
- By Alex Tapley -
Alex on the phone during working hours at Oyster Partnership recruitment agency talking to a planning officer

When I was sat on the beach in Swanage at the age of 10 having ice cream, did I think that 16 years later I would be back in Dorset discovering what goes into Development in the area or spending a day as a Planning Officer?

Absolutely not! 

However, what a fascinating insight it was! I had a chance to work with the Minors and conservation teams at Dorset Council. This was in order to see what really goes into making sure that Dorset meets it’s housing targets, as well as maintaining the beautiful aesthetics of the area. The man responsible for taking me under his wing for site inspections was John Shaw, a Planning Officer contractor with Dorset. 

To say Dorset is an area with lots of Planning applications would probably be the biggest understatement of the year. Each Planning Officer is currently holding a high caseload of applications and as a team they have determined a huge amount of Planning applications since April! 

The area is situated on the historic Jurassic coast, it’s a Conservation area and an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Any new potential dwelling must be in keeping with the aesthetics of the area. Planning officers carefully assess all applications, considering many competing issues before arriving at a conclusion. 

Weymouth sea side town in Dorset, England

Clare was responsible for welcoming me to the team that day and took the time to explain a few key applications that were being worked on. We poured over plans, comments, diagrams, designs and much more. Clare fielded my, no doubt naïve, questions with a lot of patience and really helped me settle in. 

I also sat with Hamish, a friendly Senior Planning Officer who was working on a Major application. What they explained to me was that with every Major development they needed to ensure a set amount of community schemes were in place too. The plan for this scheme was gigantic and could easily have covered the main stage at Glastonbury, however the sheer amount of detail present was incredible! The struggle being, attempting to find a balance between providing new homes in the area and keeping the character of the existing community. 

At this point it was time to head out for some site inspections with John and it was at this point I realized that I was wearing smart shoes and I suddenly had images in my head of crossing farmer’s fields! 

Inspection number one was an interesting application, luckily not in the middle of a farmer’s field! Firstly, I met with the agent working on behalf of the applicants and I met the applicants themselves. The application was to turn a former small business premise into a one bedroom holiday let. The only complaint that had been lodged was regarding drainage and the agent reassured us that this was taken care of. 

I had no idea how much work went into even a simple application like this, it had to pass through Building Control, Building Regulations, Drainage and the Planning Team. It blew my mind, the sheer amount of information that officers need to know is incredible! 

Cropped image of Planning Officer working in his office

Inspection number two, was for 4 houses to be built in a large rear garden. This was not to approve the 4 houses, but just to determine whether it was possible or not to fit 4 houses on that plot and yes, yes they can. Highways would need to check the access to the site for safety though. 

So what do I take away from my brief time as a Planning Officer (Assistant)? Well first of all, the team at Dorset are all lovely and work incredibly hard. 

Secondly, I feel that the general public should have a much larger understanding of what really goes into even the most simple of applications and I feel that building Planning into the curriculum, even as a one term module as part of Citizenship or Social Studies would be hugely beneficial. 

Planning officers going over forms at a desk

As our towns and cities grow, we need to inspire the next generation of minds to take them forward. Inspiring young people to take up a career in Planning is only beneficial for everyone. Not only for buyers looking to get onto the property ladder, but also helping communities grow and become more environmentally friendly spaces. The increase in new Planning Officers is essential to this. With new Planning Officers with new ideas and fresh ways of thinking, we can ultimately make our towns and cities better places to live. 

Here is what John had to say about the experience of having me shadow him for an afternoon. 

When the Alex spoke to me about the possibility of shadowing me for a few hours during my working day, I immediately thought it would be a great way to allow Alex to better understand the type of work a Planning Officer undertakes day to day. We went out on site together in the Dorset District and Alex was able to see first-hand the key issues a Planning Officer needs to consider when assessing a planning application. These issues informed my line of questioning during a site meeting with an agent; after this meeting I debriefed Alex on the answers I had received and the likelihood of approval for this particular application. The site visits with Alex lasted just a few hours and tied neatly into my work plan for that week. I believe enabling recruiters to be better informed about the working practices and the interests of Planning Officers will allow them to more effectively target the right jobs for the right candidates benefiting both the Planner and employer; Alex’s visit to my place of work was a very good way of achieving this and I support Oyster continuing to take this approach in the future.” 

If you’re thinking of undertaking some development in Dorset, you can rest assured the team will work tirelessly to ensure your application is dealt with in an efficient and professional manner. 

Also, if you’re thinking about a career in Planning and live in Dorset, you can contact the Planning Team in the respective areas of the county on the contact details below. 

  • The planning office in Dorchester (covers North Dorset, West Dorset, and Weymouth): 01305 838336 planningteamd@dorsetcouncil.gov.uk 
  • The planning office for the East Dorset area: 01202 795031 planningteamc@dorsetcouncil.gov.uk 
  • The planning office in Wareham (covers the Purbeck area): 01929 556561 planningteame@dorsetcouncil.gov.uk 
  • The planning office for minerals and waste development: 01305 224289 planningteama@dorsetcouncil.gov.uk 

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