Bethany Cullen

14 Mar 2023

Confession: I am a Development Management planner and, worse, I like it, a lot.

There, that’s my dirty secret. Why should it feel dirty? Development Management, or DM, is feeling the hot, uncomfortable glare of some of planning's most ardent critics. In many ways, it's the last stop in the planning process, the culmination of layers of legislation, policy, procedure, engagement and cost. Bethany Cullen, the Head of Development Management at London Borough of Camden, makes the revelatory point that DM is woefully misunderstood, "look[ed] upon as being a regulatory authority and the people who sit in it tick boxes, review applications against policies, and basically decide whether it complies, and sign it off, and write a report. And that's just not what DM is, at all… It's a vehicle for delivering change in areas, for addressing inequality and social issues…"

So why the disconnect between DM's power and the way it is perceived, even delivered? Reflecting on this conversation with Beth, increasingly I can appreciate the key point that Beth is making and the aspiration that she has for her own team: giving planners breathing space to reflect, be creative, communicate and negotiate can achieve better outcomes.

I loved speaking to Beth - you'll be able to tell in the recording because I'm a relentless "yepper", agreeing with Beth's every utterance. [Sorry Beth and listeners, very distracting.]

So many take-aways, for DM and non-DM planners. Some points that stood out for me:

  • Having an inspiring educator and rounded work experience while in school help gauge interests and directions
  • Opportunity to rotate among planning disciplines and departments is invaluable
  • Applications shouldn't be seen as static. Put the merits of the application ahead of the application itself and think about what conversations can be had to achieve common ambitions

DM is lovable because...

  • fast-paced, see results on the ground
  • never stop learning!
  • fundamental training in negotiation and communication
  • bedrock of planning careers, essential foundation in processes, legal framework, policy and politics, essential to any career direction
  • affords opportunity to make even small differences; improve environments, respond to concerns of communities, deliver benefits