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My virtual working experience during the UK lockdown

Updated: Aug 25, 2020

Written by Gabriel Cooper

Hey all, I’m Gabriel and  I’m now going into my second year of studies (Urban Planning, Design and Management). Many businesses within the UK have had to adapt to new working lifestyles. Unfortunately, it’s meant that many planning consultancies have put work experience on hold. Don’t be surprised if there aren’t many opportunities out there at the moment. Personally, I had 3 of my work experiences cancelled this summer :( . 

This summer I spent a week or so working with David Lock Associates. David Lock Associates (DLA) are a planning consultancy based in Milton Keynes. Their work varies from large scale projects of 5 to 6 thousand homes all the way down to one-off apartment complexes. The photo below is of Waterbeach in Cambridgeshire, this is one of their larger projects. DLA deals with a wide range of clients both in the private and public sector. One of their largest clients in the private sector is Urban and Civic (a forward-thinking master planning business who are constantly looking for strategic sites to develop). 

Waterbeach in Cambridgeshire (Cambridge Independent)

My Experience 

Fortunately for me, DLA were willing to honour my weeklong work experience with them in a COVID safe way, virtually! Working from home was something I was apprehensive about since I felt some of the value of the work experience could have been lost but this was certainly not the case. 

I was given three unique tasks with complete responsibility as if I had been a long-serving employee (with a few tips along the way) to complete throughout the week.

The Tasks

Task 1

My first task of the week was to create a planning appraisal for a disused ambulance station in Bletchley. The importance of a planning appraisal is to collate all relevant planning considerations to help advise a developer what could be potentially built on site. This task meant checking through: the local plan; the neighbourhood plan; relevant supplementary planning documents such as housing documents and the NPPF. A way I would describe it is that a planning appraisal is much like a CV in that it very quickly gives you an idea whether the potential candidate, i.e. the site, is suitable for developing.  If I were to do another planning appraisal I would take a different approach to my writing style. The reason for this is that I was advising the developer what they could do with the site. This is not how it should be done. It should be a very plain informative piece which enables the developer to judge for themselves what they could do with the site based on the relevant legislation you bring to their attention. 

Task 2

My next task was to complete an officers recommendation. This meant acting as an officer for a planning application under dispute. My job was to consider a planning application for a development of 25 homes in a small village (it is a real place but I’m not able to disclose, sorry). As part of a recommendation the officer is drafted in to advise whether they would accept or refuse the development and have to show which policies they are quoting. The officers recommendation doesn't have to be followed by the planning committee but it usually carries significant weight in the decision-making process. For this task, I had to decide as to how much weight to give each relevant plan when quoting policies (i.e National, local and Neighbourhood). One key takeaway I took from this task is that you have to fully understand both sides of the argument. The reason for this is that those who oppose the development quote different legislation to the developers who are trying to push the development through. Depending on what level of planning is quoted can affect the strength of the argument put forward and thus the ultimate end decision. 

Task 3

My final task of the week was to work on a viability spreadsheet. I was given a brief as to the location, size and breakdown of the proposed development. From this, my job was to attain a rough average price for some similar properties in the area. I was given some of the rough costs such as planning costs, marketing fees, land value and most importantly BCIS costs to base my judgement on. Building Costs including prelims (BICS) provides a cost per square meter of construction and this can vary as to the standard you wish to build to. The picture below shows the range of values which could be used, normally the median value is used in the viability assessment. The thing I took away from this task was how much of a % developers require as profit and as a contingency fund. It has shown me that there can be a lot of associated risk with new builds and that developers can be quite hesitant to develop. I initially saw developments as a low-risk high reward but this is certainly not the case.  

Range of values (BICS) that could be used in the viability assessment

My thoughts after the virtual work experience

Having just outlined what all the tasks were I just wanted to give some of my personal thoughts on my week. Firstly, I was blown away by how much knowledge I was able to take away in such a short space of time. Credit goes to the team at DLA and all the amazing people I was able to speak to during the week! If you get the chance to do a weeks work experience virtually take it up!

Secondly, all experiences are good experiences. One thing all the guys at DLA said was how important it is to have work experience in both the public and private sector. The reason being both sectors are unique in the way they work. One may be more suitable for you depending on what you like!

Lastly, if you’re a student like me in the BSP, you’ll understand how incredibly fortunate we are to be a part of this faculty. However, I just want to say that planning (in the UK at least) seems to be a case of everyone knows everybody. For this reason, I feel the saying ‘it’s not what you know it’s who you know’ rings true. If you can get your name out there, ping some emails about and put names to faces then it’ll really help open some doors down the line.


About Gabriel

Currently starting his second year at UCL, Gabriel is a hardworking, disciplined individual with a passion for urban planning and a keen interest in infrastructure planning. A real people’s person, having cycled 500 miles to raise funds for the Norwich Foodbank in June 2020, goes to show Gabriel’s aspiration to make change in his community and a dedication to cleaner modes of transport for the future.


Want to know more? Connect with Gabriel!


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