Town planners working around a table laptop photo
What do town planners do photo of a town


See also:  What is Town Planning?

In some form or other, town planning has been around since the first settlements were created by early humans. 

As modern civilisation has developed, so too has the need for planners to adopt complex systems within the built environment.

Planners must co-ordinate the provision of buildings for housing, businesses, shops and industry and public services such as schools and hospitals, public open space etc.  Planners organise transport systems, facilitate the provision of public utilities such as water and energy supplies, sewage systems to support other development.  These are just some examples of the wide ranging work undertaken by planners.   

Modern day planners utilise the science of organisation and on the arts to create attractive places in which people live, work and play.

A key strength of modern day town planners, compared to other built environment professions is that they will not just look at a development or building in isolation.  They must consider the bigger picture.  Depending on the role this can be looking at matters on a neighbourhood, town, county, regional, local or even international level. 

Planners are often be referred to by different names: 
  • Town planners
  • City planners
  • Spatial planners
  • Urban designers
  • Environmental planners
  • Land use planners 



Guided by the National Planning Policy Framework, planners in England must seek to achieve sustainable development.  They do this by considering economic, social, physical and environmental issues to determine the best course of action in each case.  

England has a town and country planning system that is set up for the public interest.  There are often conflicts between those promoting development and those who may be affected by it.  Part of a planner’s role will often be helping to determine where the ‘planning balance’ should be in each case.  

The stereotype of a town planner in England is one who works for a Council giving or refusing planning permission. However, the work of a town planner can differ greatly from this. Local authorities, developers, businesses or pressure groups, stakeholders and local communities all have a role to play in the planning process.  

Town planning is a varied profession and can be extremely rewarding, whichever role you take up.  Not all planners do the same job. 

Perhaps when people refer to ‘planners’ they will be referring to the ‘generalist’ town planners, operating across a range of disciplines and specialities and with particular experience and knowledge in the English town and country planning system, how it works and where its loopholes lie. 

However, there are also many ‘specialist’ planners who may have particular expertise and experience in a focused discipline, such as: 

  • development management
  • planning policy
  • housing
  • transport planning
  • retail planning
  • heritage and conservation
  • minerals and waste planning
  • environmental planning and EIA
  • sustainability and energy
  • urban design
  • landscape design
  • development economics 
The list is almost endless.  


Planners have plenty of choice when it comes to choosing where they work and who for.
Due to the regulatory role of town planning and the wider public benefit in promoting good development across a nation, there are many opportunities for a town planner to work in the public sector.  You could get a job with local government departments, national government or a Quango for instance.
In the public sector, planners assess planning applications and provide advice to elected representatives who make decisions and sometimes make decisions themselves. Planners also prepare policies to manage development.
There are also plenty of opportunities in the private sector. 
This could be as a consultant giving advice to those needing help with their projects, either working self-employed or for a company. 
A common example of a work stream in a consultancy for planners would be the appraisal of potential development sites against policy and the giving an opinion on the chances of getting planning permission and then advice about how to go about it. 
Following on from an appraisal, the planning consultant would often coordinate planning applications or local plan representations for their clients (such as house builders, developers) and they prepare the evidence base and assessments necessary to support an application and see it through to determination.  If things don’t go as planned, further work can be secured through the appeal process and maybe even through a judicial review.  
Private sector planners may also have roles directly within housebuilding, development, or engineering companies.  Some work within architect practices, for energy companies or those that deal with minerals and waste matters.
Private sector planners can assist those objecting to development, not just those promoting it.  Planners can also work for lobbying or public consultation consultancies. 
Again, the list is almost endless and these are just some examples.    
Planners can also get roles with ‘third sector’ organisations such as universities, think-tanks, charities and aid organisations, working in support of their agendas and resisting development proposals or potential changes to planning policy which aren’t aligned with their organisation’s principles.  
Town planners working around a table laptop photo


Now this is where things can get a bit blurry. 
Town Planning involves a wide range of disciplines and expertise working together.  Where the line between a planner, an urban designer and an architect lies, for instance, is not always easy to determine depending on the role and project.  Sometimes there can be a little (friendly 🙂 ) conflict between the professions.  The main professions town planners work with include:
  • Architects
  • Builders
  • Engineers
  • Surveyors
  • Environmentalists
  • Conservationists
  • Designers
  • Lobbyists

Again … guess what … yes, the list is almost endless.  



Many of the disciplines listed above have their own professional institutes which set codes of practice for their members who can only join having undertaken the necessary exams, gained experience and passed the often stringent entry criteria. 
Examples are: 
  • Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA)
  • Chartered Institute of Builders (CIOB)
  • Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS)
  • Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment (IEMA)
In England a Chartered Town Planner will be a member of the Royal Town Planning Institute (or RTPI).    
Becoming a Chartered Member of the RTPI (which was given its title by Her Majesty The Queen) means you are fully qualified, can officially call yourself a Chartered Town Planner and put the professional letters ‘MRTPI’ after your name.
You don’t have to be a Chartered Town Planner to work as a planner in England, but becoming Chartered will help as it:
  • is a hallmark of your professional expertise and integrity with a requirement to meet the entry criteria and practice within the terms of the RTPI Code of Practice
  • is an achievement that is recognised around the world
  • is a way for potential employers to assess employability
  • is a means of achieving and demonstrating continued professional development
  • helps with credability when giving evidence as an expert witness
  • provides direct access to the Bar 

There are many other benefits of being a member of the RTPI.  See their website for further information.



Planners help to physically shape the world for the better, in the public interest (mainly), and it is an incredibly satisfying profession, particularly when a scheme you have worked on gets built.  

The work of Planners helps to improve and support communities, giving people access to homes, transport, schools, shops, leisure, open spaces, and so on.   Done well, the profession can deliver places within which people love to live, work and play.  The work is endless as places evolve and regenerate and planners have an ongoing responsibility to evolve and think hard about how to work well and deliver sustainable development. 

It is (for the most part – there are times when not!) an incredibly rewarding career.   

See also:  How to Become a Planner

TownPlanning.info has an extensive catalogue of articles and guides which help explain the town planning system in England. 

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