Why Is There a Shortage of Planners in the UK?

1-2 minutes

In this blog, you will learn:

  • Why there is a shortage of Planners in the UK.
  • Why a shortage of Planners is creating challenges for the planning sector.
  • What can be done to resolve the shortage of Planners in the UK. 
  • About the planning, development and regeneration recruitment services which Spencer Clarke Group can provide.
  • Where the latest local authority Planner jobs are and how to apply for them.

Across the UK, the planning profession is facing a tidal wave of challenges. Decreased levels of funding in conjunction with an expansion in duties, is adding pressure to the job roles of already busy planning professionals. 

That’s without even mentioning the current cost of living crisis and underfunding of local authority planning departments, there is a lot for RTPI Planners to navigate! 

Restrictions on budgets are resulting in unmanageable workloads for planning professionals and as they suffer the results of this, working under tough conditions is making recruiting and retaining professionals difficult for local planning authorities. 

According to a survey by the Royal Town Planning Institute, 82% of local authority Planners stated that their employer had experienced difficulties when it came to hiring Planners, with 68% of respondents suggesting that competitive salaries are a key stumbling block for local authorities. 

In our latest blog, we’re uncovering exactly why there is a shortage of Planners in the UK and what can be done to resolve this ongoing issue.  

Why is there a shortage of Planners in the UK?

The shortage of Planners within the UK is due to:

  • An increased demand for skilled professionals.
  • An ageing workforce.
  • Constraints on resources and budget.
  • A gap in required skills.
  • Poor salaries and a lack of benefits.

An increased demand for skilled professionals

There are multiple reasons for the increased demand of skilled professionals resulting in a shortage of Planners in the UK.

One of the primary reasons is due to the ever-growing population of the UK. As the population increases, so does the demand for housing, infrastructure and amenities. By 2036, the UK population is expected to reach an estimated 73.7 million people, indicating that demand will continue to rise.

Planning recruitment specialist, Joel Khambay, says “As with all supply and demand, it’s essential that the planning sector is able to keep up with these requirements, but due to a lack of funding and resources, this has become increasingly difficult.”

Joel continues “As the supply of qualified Planners struggles to keep pace with the fast rate of urbanisation, this can result in a shortage of skilled professionals and a backlog of projects, which can cause difficulties throughout planning projects.”

The current demand for large-scale infrastructure projects, such as energy facilities and transportation networks, is also exacerbating the increased demand for skilled professionals. 

Such projects require skilled Planners to navigate complex planning processes, whilst ensuring compliance with regulations. The surge in demand for these skills is creating a strain on existing planning resources.

An ageing workforce

Another factor adding to the shortage of Planners in the UK is the fact that many experienced Planners are approaching retirement age. 

Not only does it mean the planning sector is suffering a huge loss of essential expertise and skill, the retirement of Planners is leading to recruitment difficulties for industry professionals, who are struggling to fill positions with individuals who possess the same level of expertise.

A survey from the Public Practice in 2023 found that 66% of respondents felt that their teams ‘did not have the necessary skills and resources’ to meet the local authority’s top priorities.

A lack of younger people choosing to pursue planning-related education or enter the sector means a smaller talent pool for hiring managers to find qualified individuals amongst. This could have a detrimental impact on the effectiveness of planning efforts as a lack of skill will make complex and already challenging projects, more difficult to complete. 

Constraints on resources and budget

Restrictions on resources and budgets within the planning sector plays a big part in the shortage of Planners in the UK.

With planning departments and local authorities subjected to regulatory funding, the ability to hire and retain a sufficient quantity of skilled Planners is becoming increasingly difficult.

Budget restrictions imposed by central government can result in a lack of resources, limited ability to recruit, and a lack of professional development opportunities adding to workforce shortages.

In fact, the SME State of Play report (detailing a comprehensive survey conducted by the Home Builders Federation, Close Brothers Property Finance and Travis Perkins plc) shows that 91% of those surveyed say that planning departments within local authorities are under-resourced, which is hindering the growth of SME home builders.

A lack of financial support can also result in outdated technology infrastructure, such as limited access to Geographic Information Systems

The absence of modern tools might result in limitations on a Planner's ability to perform their responsibilities to a high standard. When tasks such as data analysis and mapping become more difficult, it can lead to bottlenecks in the planning process and discourage new talent from joining the field.

A gap in required skills

Due to the demanding nature of the sector, planning projects increasingly require a specialised skill set and technical ability.

Joel Khambay says “In-demand skills include regulatory knowledge for understanding planning laws, problem-solving to analyse complex planning issues, and stakeholder engagement to collaborate throughout the planning process.”

Planners are often required to possess expertise within a number of areas including, sustainability, urban design and heritage conservation.

However, with the increased demand for skilled professionals resulting in a diminished talent pool, there may be a limited number of Planners and Chartered Planners with the desired qualifications and experience, which then leads to gaps in the required skills to efficiently complete planning projects. 

In order to bridge the skills gap, it’s critical to have a continuous flow of people enrolling in planning related education. There are a number of avenues to become a Chartered Planner in the UK, including carrying out an RTPI accredited degree, or gaining practical experience through an internship, work placement or employment. 

Those completing an RTPI accredited degree will spend three to four years learning on a full time basis. Students from the UK or EU can also expect to pay around £9,000 a year for their study.

Poor salaries and a lack of benefits

According to the RTPI’s State of the Profession 2023 report, the remuneration of Town Planners has been in sharp decline. The report states that if salaries had followed the trajectory of inflation since 2005, the average Planner should be making near £50,000 per annum; however the average salary actually stands at £33,000.

Low salaries and unappealing benefit packages are doing nothing to help the fight against a shortage of Planners. In fact, these factors might even result in a higher turnover rate amongst existing Planners.

As stated in the report, throughout the last decade, the administration of planning services at local authority level has become more challenging due to lower levels of funding and an increase in the range of duties to be undertaken by the planning system.

Such challenges have driven the expansion of the private sector and the constriction of the public sector, whilst keeping Planners salaries down and making the field less appealing to young people. 

A lack of benefits within the field might also persuade planning professionals to explore alternative career options away from the public sector. 

If Planners feel that they are underpaid and not reaping any other benefits for staying in the field, they might be drawn to alternative roles within private sector organisations that offer better pay, enhanced opportunities for career development or a better work life balance. 

Why is shortage of Planners causing an issue for the planning sector?

A shortage of Planners brings with it a number of risks for the sector, from project delays to potential legal implications.

The lack of planning professionals within local government can have an extensive effect on local areas and their communities. For example, without sufficient planning expertise, urban developments might not fulfil strategic competence and could result in inefficient land use.

A shortage of Planners within local government might also culminate in low quality or poorly designed infrastructure, which will reflect badly on the sector and those who work within it.

Should a lack of Planners result in health and safety regulations being breached, this could cause legal proceedings to take place and have a significantly negative impact on the sector.

Planners play an important role in conducting site assessments from a health and safety perspective. A lack of available Planners to conduct thorough assessments might lead to hazards being missed and the approval of developments that are a risk to public health and safety. 

Project delays caused by a shortage of Planners might also reflect badly on the planning profession. Not only could delays lead to the public perception of inefficiency within the planning sector, setbacks in planning projects can also create significant economic implications. Delays can lead to lost revenue opportunities and increased project costs, both insinuating a lack of proficiency within the planning profession. 

How can we resolve the shortage of Planners?

Addressing the shortage of Planners within the UK requires a multi-faceted approach. Key strategies for resolving the shortage include:

  • Investing in education and training.
  • Utilising the interim market.
  • Streamlining planning processes. 

Investing in education and training

Increasing the funding invested into planning education programs at universities and colleges, is an important step towards attracting and training more planning professionals. The UK government, specifically the Department for Education, plays an important role in funding higher education and allocating funds to universities and colleges. 

As well as investing in education to develop existing and new planning programs, enhancing opportunities for Continuous Professional Development (CPD) and helping existing Planners to upskill could also encourage them not to leave the profession. 

A focus on Continuous Professional Development is also an effective way to address any skills gaps within the planning sector. The RTPI provides a number of opportunities for CPD to planning professionals, including online courses covering topics such as heritage and conservation and high street regeneration and growth.

Utilising the interim market

By utilising candidates within the interim market, local governments are able to tap into a pool of highly skilled Planners who are committed to taking on short term projects.

Not only does this help mitigate issues caused by a shortage of Planners, interim workers also play a vital role in supporting teams throughout busy projects and helping them meet strict deadlines.

As well as possessing the skills and experience to take on a role with little need for training, recruiting interim Planners allows local governments to benefit from their specialised skill sets without suffering long-term financial implications. 

Interim Planners are advised to invest in their own career development, meaning they bring with them a wealth of specialised skills and knowledge.

If you’re an organisation looking to explore the interim market, or you’re an interim worker looking for a new challenge, you can get in touch with our specialist planning recruiter, Joel Khambay, on 01772 954200 to explore your options.  

Streamlining planning processes

By simplifying and streamlining planning processes, this might mitigate some of the challenges, such as regulatory complexities and land use conflicts, which could persuade Planners to look for work in alternative sectors. 

Complex and lengthy planning processes can be frustrating for Planners and lead to job dissatisfaction and low retention rates within the sector.

Implementing digital tools, online platforms and electronic workflows to automate certain tasks can help Planners manage their workload, improve data management, enhance communication and feel generally more satisfied with the planning process.

As well as enhancing efficiency in decision making, which can result in development proposals being processed quicker and a smoother turnaround for planning applications, streamlining planning processes can also foster innovation and encourage creative thinking. This can lead to increased job satisfaction and higher retention rates in planning.

Struggling to recruit planners?

With extensive knowledge across the planning, development and regeneration sector and a fantastic track record of providing qualified interim workers to local authorities, housing associations and private sector organisations, we are on hand to help with your staffing needs. 

If you’re struggling to recruit, why not get in touch with planning recruitment specialist Joel Khambay today on 01772 954200 to see how he can help.


Interim planner jobs

If you’re a Planner searching for an interim position, check out our latest planning jobs or upload your CV to be notified when a suitable position becomes available. 

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