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Public planning for the Defence estate

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Town Planning

We recently published a blog from Stephen Harness about Town Planning for a specific project, namely the Army Basing Programme for Salisbury Plain. Here, one of Stephen's colleagues gives us a more general view of town planning at DIO.

My name is Rob Sanderson and I’m a Town Planner at DIO.

My path to this career began with a Town Planning module that I took, out of curiosity, as part of my Geography degree. That kindled my interest in the profession. Following graduation, I was lucky enough to find a job as a Trainee Town Planner in a Local Authority.

The Trainee position gave me a lot of practical experience while I was studying on a part-time basis for a professional qualification. Subsequent jobs in Local Authorities widened my experience and enabled me to successfully apply for membership of the Royal Town Planning Institute.

Changing Direction

After 20 years of working in various roles as a Town Planner in local government, I felt the time had come for a change of direction and noticed a vacancy for a Town Planner at DIO’s predecessor, Defence Estates (DE).

Ministry of Defence sign. [Photo by Harland Quarrington; Crown Copyright]
Promoting the MOD's proposals rather than regulating plans was a change of direction for Rob. [Photo by Harland Quarrington; Crown Copyright]
The Crown used to have immunity from planning legislation, but this had just been removed. DE was then subject to the same planning laws as everyone else and needed people who knew the Town Planning system.

It required people who could engage with other Town Planning professionals as an equal. My accumulated skills and experience were directly transferable, although I would now be promoting MOD’s interests and development proposals, rather than regulating those made by others. It was also important to me that I would be continuing to work in the public interest, rather than for private sector clients.

The DIO Difference

I’ve now been in post for almost eight years and found that, from a Town Planning perspective, the Defence estate is unique in its scale. It also has unique responsibilities imposed by various designations, such as sites of Special Scientific Interest and Scheduled Ancient Monuments.

The variety of work that I've been involved in since my appointment is an aspect that I particularly enjoy. On any given day, I can deal with a wide range of Town Planning issues. These could include relatively simple queries about whether a proposal needs planning permission; submitting a planning application to enable the disposal of land declared surplus to Defence requirements; or making a representation to ensure use of MOD land isn’t unduly restricted by council planning policies.

The Old War Office, Whitehall (Photo by Harland Quarrington, Crown Copyright)
Part of a Town Planner's role is to assist in the selling off of surplus land and property, including the forthcoming sale of the Old War Office, pictured above. (Photo by Harland Quarrington, Crown Copyright)

The extent of the Defence estate and the need to see and understand the context of sites that I work on mean I have become very familiar with the motorway network since joining DIO. A single site visit can involve a day’s travel – a stark contrast to my days in local government when my ‘patch’ was no more that a few miles across. Low points have to include an early-morning puncture on the M5 and hand-delivering consultation letters in torrential winter rain.

Highlights of my time here include working with colleagues and consultants to enable various large sales of surplus land and property. On a different note, I was once able to sit in a Harrier jump jet – albeit stationary – as part of a RAF Familiarisation Day I attended. If you get the chance to attend one of these events, my tip is never to eat the boiled sweet issued as part of the aircrew survival rations. It tastes OK, but contains most of your day’s calorie allowance in one sweet - something the instructor revealed only after we’d eaten them, much to the horror of many of those present!

2 Harrier jets prepare to land on HMS Illustrious, 2008 (Photo by LA (Phot) Des Wade, Crown Copyright)
Rob got to sit in a Harrier jet, but it wasn't flying at the time! (Photo by LA (Phot) Des Wade, Crown Copyright)

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