ENews Issue - 29 April 2014

ENews - April 2014

TRA ENews is the monthly newsletter of Trevor Roberts Associates. It provides information about TRA generally, its staff and Associates, current and forthcoming events, new training courses and consultancy services etc.

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In this issue:

  • Support Staff Conference - quick reminder
  • TRA advice on training featured in Planning magazine
  • Popular workshop on validation: don't miss out
  • Post election training for Councillors: A final reminder before Election Day!
  • Workshops in Manchester in June for planning, enforcement and support staff
  • 30th Anniversary: Trevor Roberts reflects on three decades of TRA
  • North Hertfordshire planners keen to improve customer care




Support Staff Conference - quick reminder

As featured in last month's ENews, bookings are now being taken for our latest Conference for Planning Support Staff. The Conference is taking place in London on 19 June and we'd recommend booking soon if you do want to attend. If you can't send a booking right away it would be best to reserve a place provisionally via our online provisional booking system or by contacting Shelagh Pooley on 01204 385678.

Topics being covered include:

  • key changes to secondary legislation and the new National Planning Policy Guidance - and their implications for support staff
  • customer care and how support staff can contribute
  • challenges, opportunities and developing the role of support staff.

Full details and a booking form are on our website. Discounts are available if you book more than one place and/or if you are a member of the Planning Admin Network. We hope to see you there.

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TRA advice on training featured in Planning magazine

TRA was recently asked to contribute to Planning magazine's regular careers advice slot, with a look at key knowledge and skills gaps for planners and how training can help.

In TRA's experience, current training needs are strongly influenced by the increasing requirement to encourage development at the same time as coping with reduced departmental resources. The feature was published earlier this week and in it, Principal Director, Penny O'Shea, highlights four specific areas of professional development that can help planners facing this challenge, namely:

  • development economics
  • design
  • negotiation, and
  • personal effectiveness and time management.

You can view the article on the Planning website or read the full text on the TRA website.

If you are interested in training in any of these areas, either on an inter-authority or in-house basis, please visit our website for more information on what's available or get in touch direct to discuss your needs.

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Popular workshop on validation: don't miss out

Last year's training programme saw the introduction of a brand new workshop on Validation. Effective Validation: good practice for all application types proved very popular with all of the 20 places available being snapped up! The workshop is due to run again in London on 5 June and a few places are still available if you would like to attend, however prompt booking is recommended.

The workshop is concerned with validating the wide range of applications submitted to a Planning Authority: planning, advertisement, listed building, trees, certificates of lawfulness and prior notifications.

It considers the different requirements for different types of application as set out in primary and secondary legislation (including the fee regime); Government policy on the use of local validation requirements; and when to ask for further information. Identification of statutory consultations, notifications and publicity usually follows from validation and identification of constraints, so the workshop also ensures that participants are aware and up to date on the requirements for different application types. The workshop concludes by considering how authorities deal with invalid applications, handle disputes and when an appeal against non-determination can be made. It highlights throughout the opportunities that exist through incremental and marginal changes to make this key element of the process both more efficient and effective.

Comments of previous participants include:

  • "Very useful with lots of relevant information to relay back to colleagues" Hannah Hale, Wyre Borough Council
  • "Answered all questions and gave good overview of new processes" Rebecca Balfour, South Gloucestershire Council
  • "Very useful. Particularly the discussions around the updates taking place this week and future updates" Yvonne Dale, Exmoor National Park Authority
  • "Fantastic. Could do it all over again and still have more to learn"
  • "Lots of info to take in - good notes too to take back. Learned lots of new stuff! Thanks"

Firm bookings can be made by completing the booking form and provisional bookings to secure your place for a short time can be made online.

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Post election training for Councillors: A final reminder before Election Day!

"The LGA endorses the good practice of many councils which ensures that their members receive training on the planning process when first serving on the planning committee. It also recommends that members be updated regularly on changes to legislation or procedures. Such training is essential for those members involved in making decisions on planning applications and on local development documents. Authorities should provide training on the planning processes for all members." Local Government Association, Probity in Planning.

For some authorities local Council elections are fast approaching. We would like to remind those of you who are considering providing planning training in the coming months about the importance of booking early; this will ensure that your Councillors don't miss out on one of our extremely popular in-house training sessions.

We can respond to various training requirements, providing individual bespoke sessions as appropriate, but particularly popular in the post-election period are our one-day sessions:

  • A Briefing on Planning for Councillors - covering planning procedures and policies, and focusing especially on Development Management
  • The Role of Councillors in Planning: propriety and good practice - covering issues such as conflicts and declarations of interest, material considerations, lobbying, and making the decision.

If the time commitment for Councillors is a major consideration we can also offer shorter sessions (usually 3 hours) with flexible timings during a morning, afternoon or evening. These sessions are essentially shortened versions of the above one-day workshops and are delivered by one presenter. Please note that due to time constraints a full case study cannot be used during the shorter sessions.

Below you can see some participant feedback from previous Councillor in-house workshops:

  • As a new Councillor I thought this was an excellent introduction to the Role of Councillors in Planning. It addressed not only issues and good practice associated with the Councillor's role but by necessity addressing and commenting on key aspects of the planning system. Commentary on changes introduced by the new Localism legislation was particularly welcome. Cllr Gregory Harlock, Huntingdonshire District Council
  • The whole thing was professionally delivered as usual - the right balance of humour and realism. Still brings home the fact that no matter how often I preach, information delivered by external trainers delivers the 'light bulb' moment. Fiona Edwards, Cheshire West and Chester Council
  • Exceeded expectations, mostly due to the knowledge of the presenters and the methods used which made the delegates work together effectively. Stephen Haroldson, Copeland Borough Council
  • Have attended the last two TRA sessions (over two years) but there is always something new to learn, so even though I have been a Councillor for three years I like to attend for updates. Cllr Julie Bell, St Albans District Council
  • More than met my expectations and should be made compulsory for all Councillors. All Councillors would benefit from this training - it would help them understand the reasons behind decisions. Cllr Angela Glass. East Hampshire District Council
  • Excelled expectations - well done! Well presented, easy delivery. Both presenters were lively and obviously knowledgeable. Nigel Taylor, Mendip District Council.

The Training for Councillors section of our website provides some further information and answers the most frequently asked questions. We generally ask for around 4-6 weeks notice to arrange Councillor training but will aim to accommodate clients wherever possible thanks to our large team of experienced presenters. Please note that demand is very high in the period immediately after the elections and therefore we would highly recommend that you get in touch as soon as possible to fix your date. A number of authorities have already avoided the rush and booked their training days - so don't leave it until the last minute, contact us today!

To see an outline programme without obligation, or to arrange a booking please contact Angela Holmes.

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Workshops in Manchester in June for planning, enforcement and support staff

The TRA 2014 Training Workshop Programmes get underway shortly with our first batches of workshops taking place in Glasgow on 13 May and London on 5 June. Looking slightly further ahead, we have a group of workshops coming up on 24 June at our Manchester venue aimed not only at Planning Staff, but also covering topics relevant to those involved in Planning Enforcement and Planning Support:

  • Negotiation Skills: the key to achieving planning goals and objectives

    Almost every day, planning, enforcement and other 'environmental' staff within local planning authorities engage in some form of negotiation. Often these negotiations, whether they are with developers, agents, the public or even their colleagues, are carried out without any clear understanding of the principles and techniques involved. Yet having an awareness of both principles and techniques, coupled with experience, can make a formidable difference to an officer's effectiveness. This workshop focuses on persuasion and influencing skills; when to negotiate and when not to; approaches to negotiation; "tricks" and techniques; and the power and personality dimensions. The workshop combines theories with working references from the experience of participants.
  • The Basics of Planning Enforcement

    The credibility of the planning system is increasingly reliant on effective enforcement of planning control. This workshop is aimed at planning staff who are either directly involved in enforcement work or who wish to have a contextual understanding of the system, as well as relatively new or less experienced enforcement staff. Specific aspects covered include: what can be enforced - the definition of development and what constitutes unauthorised development; the immunity rules; how to deal with complaints; evidence collection; the effective use of the enforcement toolkit; and practical steps to make enforcement more efficient and effective.
  • Supporting the Processing of Planning Applications: a workshop for experienced technical and administrative staff and their managers

    Experienced support staff and their managers are key people within any planning department and the workshop aims to develop their knowledge and understanding of the detailed requirements involved in processing planning applications. This will also enable them to make a valuable input into re-engineering or streamlining these processes. The workshop's interactive methods afford a valuable opportunity to compare work practices and procedures in other authorities and deal with practical issues and concerns. Issues which can confront front-line support staff, including Data Protection, Copyright and Access to Information, will also be covered in the workshop along with any proposed changes or consultations that are current at the time.

Further details of all these workshops and booking forms are available on the TRA website via the above links. If you are unable to make a firm booking straight away, provisional bookings to reserve places can be made by telephoning 01204 385678 or via our online provisional bookings facility.

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30th Anniversary: Trevor Roberts reflects on three decades of TRA

In May 1984, at the age of 40, I gave up my job as Director of Housing with Ipswich BC and set up TRA on a freelance basis, moving to Bolton in the process for various family reasons. So I found myself with no source of income, a wife with no job, two young children, and enough money to allow us to pay the mortgage and survive for about six months with care - after that our high dive would look decidedly unwise.



Survival was paramount. Initially I advertised a market stall of services based on housing management, planning, and a new venture - management training for local government. As a local government employee, I had not been able to get "clients" in advance, so was starting from scratch.



My first couple of years involved an amazing variety of jobs small and large. I set up some management training workshops myself in Bolton ("nearer than you think" was a catchphrase for a time), ran a sixth form confer ence on housing for Three Rivers DC, trained sales staff for a company marketing alarm systems to local government, advised a betting shop chain on how to handle involvement in urban renewal schemes, taught monthly on a new course in housing studies at Birmingham Polytechnic (now BCU), did a major housing organisation and management review for the London Borough of Greenwich, and undertook various management training assignments in Hackney, Test Valley, Middlesbrough, Cheshire and Cambridgeshire.



The bit of my market stall which took off most was in-house management training. By 1988, TRA was still just me, based at home but working away during the week for local authorities all over England and a few in Scotland (thanks to a link with the Planning Exchange), and running management workshops set up, promoted and sold directly myself in a range of venues. Working at full capacity (supported by a part time administrator, Sylvia Ashcroft, who stayed with TRA until 2000), the only way to expand appeared to be to take on staff. Instead, the model chosen was to expand into training more generally, working through contracted "associates" - trusted personal contacts who could work independently and reliably. This was how TRA developed between 1987 and about 1996, when the current mixture of in-house training and workshops was established (including the unique connection with Cambridge University as a base for training for planning staff). Also during this time I set up the pioneering RTPI North West Update series of training events, which combined TRA's commercial expertise in event management with the continuous professional development aspirations of the RTPI.



I had been on the RTPI Council since 1978 and in 1996 decided to run for President. This prompted changes to allow TRA to run much more independently of myself - a move away from my house to an office base in central Bolton, appointment of a key central co-ordinator, Penny O'Shea (now Principal Director), and expansion of the Associates team. Consequently when I was RTPI President in 1998-99, the business carried on smoothly despite my heavy presidential commitments. This model of a strong centre co-ordinating and supporting a diverse team of independent associates and presenters has proved very resilient.



From 2000, TRA expanded its training activities significantly, and developed a new strand of work - consultancy on the organisation of planning, especially development control/management, linked to a unique online procedure manual system. Although the reliance on independent associates continued, TRA employed some professional staff directly for the first time, including Stewart Glassar who is still with TRA. I gradually handed over running of the business to Penny while spending most of my time "on the road" doing training and consultancy assignments all over the country.



In 2007 I gave two years' notice that I would retire in 2009, worked flat out until June of that year and then - much to everyone's amazement - bowed out completely from any direct involvement (the majority of the business is still owned by my family). Apart from family commitments, I have devoted retirement to chairing the Brathay Exploration Group (an organisation which runs expeditions for young people in the UK and abroad) through an especially tough patch; and pushing through a massive Village Hall revitalisation scheme in Threlkeld where I live (see http://threlkeldvillagehall.org). My planning and business experience has proved vital in both roles. Also important has been learning Italian - in Italy.



Meanwhile TRA has continued under Penny's leadership. Systematic business planning has always been a feature of TRA, so the recession was anticipated (though not its scale and impact) and some steps were taken to retrench on activities before I retired. However, the last five years have been tough, with the general recession accompanied by massive uncertainty in the planning/local government scene. The flexible organisation model coupled with lack of debt, tight control of overheads, and developing new types of business has enabled TRA to survive while many of our competitors have not. Managing a business in times of expansion is difficult, but keeping it going through a period of downturn and uncertainty is much harder. I am therefore grateful to all those involved who have achieved this.



I had a great time with TRA, worked with stimulating and interesting people who all became friends, met hundreds of people (most of whom I remember). I am pleased that after 30 years it continues on much the same basis as it started: professional, high quality, personal and efficient.

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North Hertfordshire planners keen to improve customer care

In an increasingly demanding world where users expect a quality service at minimum cost, the provision of a quality customer-orientated service can go a long way to achieving the quality outcomes that an Authority strives to achieve. Whether as part of the Local Plan process or the Development Management process - understanding who your customers are and how their needs might be met is an often overlooked element of the job.

It is with this in mind that North Hertfordshire District Council recently commissioned TRA to deliver an in-house session for their staff on Managing the Planning Customer's Experience.

This one-day interactive workshop was delivered by TRA presenter, Chris Weetman; providing planners with an understanding of why customer care matters more than ever before, and how to deliver good customer care at little or no extra cost in terms of time and money.

Feedback from the participants was particularly encouraging:

  • The course covered a lot of information. The presenter was clear, had good examples and knew exactly what he was talking about. Kerry Andrews.
  • The workshop met expectations - it has given 'food for thought' as to how we make use of the content and move forward e.g. what other training is needed, and identifying areas which need to be improved. A great deal of information to digest and reflect on. Good examples used and will be remembered. Mary Caldwell.
  • Interactive sessions were useful and timely - not too intimidating! Supplying handouts, with copies of the slides at the end, is a good idea. Clare Skeeb.
  • Thorough examination of customer service from a planning perspective, covering all aspects. Useful for all staff who attended. Jenny Donovan, Technical Support Manager.

If you are interested in the possibility of running this workshop on an in-house basis, or you would like more information, such as an outline programme, then please do not hesitate to contact Angela Holmes directly.

Please note: this workshop has also been included in the main TRA inter-authority programme for 2014 and is scheduled to run in London on 23rd September; see the full details here.

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Contact Information

Trevor Roberts Associates

1 Atlas House, St. Georges Square,

Bolton, BL1 2HB,

United Kingdom

Tel: (01204) 385678

Fax: (01204) 386376

Email: mail@tra-ltd.co.uk

Website: http://www.tra-ltd.co.uk/

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