A key Officer in Ceredigion leads the way in sharing what it’s like to have a career in planning.
Russell Hughes-Pickering is Ceredigion County Council’s Corporate Lead Officer for Economy and Regeneration, which involves being the head of planning. He has been part of an informative article in February 2020’s edition of ‘The Planner’, the official magazine of the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI).
Russell Hughes-Pickering is one of twelve Corporate Lead Officers who sit on the council’s Leadership Group. He says planners need to “be politically astute and look above plans and policies”. This means understanding the organisation, their role in delivering corporate objectives and thinking strategically “so they see how they fit in across the board and in turn help deliver better services and better places for people.”
Russell left Llandovery College in 1985 to start a degree in planning at the University of Westminster. He started work at the London Borough of Hounslow in 1989 as a planner before becoming the lead officer in development plan work in 1997.
The RTPI’s article delves into the careers of a chief planning officer and is campaigning for heads of planning to be incorporated into local authority senior leadership teams. This is amid fears of a declining profile and diminishing corporate presence of spatial planning.
Russell continues, “The more I've been involved in preparing corporate plans or the council's development programme, the easier it is to see, influence and ensure planning is involved at the right time. This has helped avoid issues when major projects go through their planning stage, whether that's a town centre development, a change to a care home or a new school. Fortunately, I'm involved in an excellent leadership group where the culture focuses on improvement and helping each other to achieve better services.”
He moved back to Aberystwyth in 2000 when taking up the Principal Forward Planner role at Ceredigion, before becoming the Assistant Director for Planning in 2006. This job evolved from a primarily planning remit to one that also included building control and housing matters. In May 2013, he became Head of Performance and Improvement, then became Head of Performance and Economy in 2015. From 01 April 2018, Russell has been the Council's Corporate Lead Officer for Economy and Regeneration.
When asked what advice Russell would give younger colleagues, he wants to see more authorities improve arrangements on major development projects by setting up corporate development and project management groups and involve planners in them. He also wants to involve the next generation of planners. He said, “Young planners should get involved in these as much as possible so they're involved in a wide range of service improvements, embrace projects or new development, seek ways to help progress and improve them, and engage in a positive way.”
Councillor Rhodri Evans is the Cabinet Member for Economy and Regeneration, which includes planning. He said, “We are grateful to Russell for his vision and strong voice for planning matters in Ceredigion. A planner has a big part to play in helping to develop and deliver corporate priorities. It shapes the future of our county for future generations.”
The council’s decision to prioritise the planning process shows how the council is working to reach its corporate priorities of boosting the economy and Promoting Environmental and Community Resilience.