Development versus Infrastructure Planning. Advice for junior planning solicitors.
Views on the legal planning sector 2015/16 by Stuart Phillips, Origin Legal.
Recruitment in the planning market in 2015 has continued on an upward curve with most of the major practices hiring to expand or to replace this year. Confidence in the market is further demonstrated by a number of firms who previously did not have a planning function hiring or looking to hire partners or senior lawyers in order to give them a specific capability in this area. Whilst senior hires have been significant, vacancies at the mid-level (2-6 years) remain the most common, but juniors continue to be in demand which I predict will continue in 2016. The NQ market for retention and external hiring is probably the best I can remember in recent times and I anticipate this will continue. Due to the number of opportunities in the market, firms are looking to attract and retain talent in a variety of ways with the counter offers being a major obstacle for any hiring firm. I would advise those hiring practices to think about this early in the recruitment process and to develop a strategy to overcome it.
I anticipate that we will see more of the same in 2016 as the UK economy * continues to grow and the need for affordable housing remains firmly on the political agenda. In addition, the Government’s strategy of growing the economy by investing in major infrastructure projects and a thriving investment market means that there is a good pipeline of projects that will continue to keep the planners busy. We may even get a decision on the next runway at some point in 2016!
I am pleased to say that things look stable for the time being and because of this I have decided to focus on options for junior solicitors considering a career move and what they are likely to get if they opt to join either a development led planning team or an infrastructure group.
*Although growth in the global economy seems to be slowing, the UK real estate market still appears to be robust with many investors looking for good returns on investments
What you will get by joining an infrastructure led planning team.
Infrastructure led planning groups tend to be larger as working on Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects is process driven and therefore requires a larger number of people collectively working towards one goal. This can incorporate periods of intense activity due to the tight deadlines involved and requires strong project management skills. The work often involves liaising with technical consultants, so will suit people who enjoy this side of the business and there can be less drafting until you get to a more senior level than you are likely to experience in development planning. Due to the process, the work is a lot more consistent and is likely to suit individuals who prefer to know what each day is likely to have in store. Therefore if you are the type of person who enjoys methodically working, as part of a team towards a collective goal then working in an infrastructure led group could be for you. Due to the intense nature of this type of work it can be very difficult to combine both infrastructure and development work, but it is possible to find firms that offer both. It is also worth bearing in mind that as firms become increasingly sector led, planners work less in silos and have to be experts in areas such as finance energy and projects. As you would expect, due to the sheer size of these projects, not every firm can offer this type of work and the teams tend to be centred on the very large and national planning firms.
Working for a development led planning team
Development led work can be more fast moving and again requires good project and time management skills as you are often dealing with several matters at once. Usually you will be working very closely with developers, big or small, who are dependent on creative solutions to get their project consented. Due to this, you tend to play a more active part in the overall strategy of getting the project across the line for the client. This requires tactical thinkers who do not panic under pressure, with the ability to think on their feet and therefore means that every day can be different with diverse challenges. Development led planning tends to involve more drafting so technical skills need to be very strong and anyone who enjoys the contentious side is more likely to suit this type of work due to the likelihood of Judicial Reviews, Planning Appeals and other challenges. This area of the business is also suited to those who enjoy the political process of planning, so especially suits those with a deep rooted passion for it, who want to do good for the overall benefit of the sector.
Stuart Phillips is a Senior Consultant at Origin Legal with a focus on planning sector. If you are considering a career move or would like an overview of the market he can be contacted on 01206 233504 or [email protected]
A list of active positions can be found here: https://www.originlegal.co.uk/jobs