ENews Issue - 30 July 2007

ENews - July 2007

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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TRA has a track record of over 20 years of providing training and consultancy services to local government town planning. Although our clients have traditionally been individual local authorities, we are increasingly working for groups of authorities acting collaboratively. We are happy to work in this way, since it clearly offers significant efficiencies to all concerned, and in light of the Government's emphasis on working collaboratively (within the public sector and beyond) we are keen to promote this particular dimension of the services we offer.

A flyer outlining those TRA services which can be undertaken jointly will be available shortly but in the meantime, the following list gives you an idea of the sorts of areas where we can assist:

  • In-house training for planning staff; this is a well-established service from TRA which includes training in development control, training for planning support staff, and training on inquiries/examinations
  • In-house training for Councillors; TRA is the leading UK provider of training for Councillors involved in planning (including Town/Parish Councillors). Most of our Councillor training is delivered for individual authorities but there is nothing to prevent authorities in a particular area commissioning joint training, especially if the training is on a fairly specialised topic or where only a few councillors from each authority require training
  • Collaboration feasibility studies; in our reviews of development control we have recommended that some authorities should work collaboratively in service provision and TRA can assist authorities establish this kind of arrangement by analysing specific requirements; assessing the opportunities for and constraints on a joint approach; advising on options for collaborative arrangements; recommending appropriate mechanisms; and providing advice and support on implementation as necessary
  • Facilitation of change to collaboration; TRA has considerable experience of working with authorities in facilitating change and we can provide facilitated learning and problem-solving support to groups of authorities who are experiencing problems in establishing and/or maintaining collaborative working arrangements
  • Collaboration in forward planning; the production of statutory and non-statutory documents on a joint basis is being promoted by the Government and TRA can assist authorities with the processes and mechanisms involved in this type of collaboration (as distinct from advice on the policies themselves).
  • Joint procedure reviews; although our reviews of specific aspects of the planning service are normally commissioned by individual authorities, there are options for joint commissioning. This could be in relation to a specific aspect such as validation, enforcement, s106 agreements, where it would be helpful for best practice to be adopted by all the authorities involved. Alternatively we can review arrangements which affect all the authorities in a similar manner and where improvement would benefit everyone, such as consultation with external bodies, working with Local Partnerships etc.
  • Joint procedure specification; similarly, although our online Procedure Guides are usually developed for individual authorities, it would be possible to codify into a Procedure Guide any joint procedures observed by several authorities.

If you would like to know more about in-house training please contact Suzanne Waldram. For further information on any of the other services mentioned please contact Penny O'Shea.


TRA has recently been commissioned by Kettering Borough Council to deliver a series of six one-day workshops for the benefit of its planning staff, a number of whom are newly recruited. Four of the workshops have been delivered so far and the final two will run in the middle of August.

Topics being covered in the series include four of our existing workshops:

  • An Introduction to Development Control
  • Planning Conditions: a positive approach
  • Negotiation Concepts and Skills
  • Preparing Committee Reports and Appeal Statements,

plus two bespoke sessions, developed specifically for the authority, looking at planning policy and conservation areas/listed buildings.

The provision of training on an in-house basis i s becoming increasingly common and many authorities are going for a series of workhops along similar lines to Kettering. TRA also delivered a series of six workshops between April and July for Highland Council, where in-house training clearly has even more benefits than normal in terms of reducing travel time and cost.

TRA offers in-house training in development control, for planning support staff, and for planning inquiries/examinations. For further information or to arrange a workshop please contact Suzanne Waldram.


There are still a couple of places available on the "introductory" module of the brand new TRA/Cambridge University Certificated Programme for Planning Support Staff, running in October/November this year. Please note that this module is not due to run again until 2009 so this is your last chance for a while if you want to attend.

The module is entitled The UK Planning Framework and the Role of Planning Support within it and is designed to help participants consider such issues as: what is meant by planning support; what are the "administrative" and "technical" functions of a planning department; and what do support staff need to fulfil their role?

Feedback from the first time the module ran, back in January/February, was very positive:

"I understand a great deal more than I did before the course and I am eager to learn more. The course has given me the confidence to implement new-found knowledge and the foundations have been laid for future knowledge-building." Pamela Armstrong, Gateshead MBC.

"I have gained a great deal in terms of understanding the UK planning system. The course has helped me to gain more confidence and I think that has come from the presentations and writing the assignments. I feel that my report writing skills have improved greatly too. I have very much enjoyed this learning experience and will be going on to do the other three modules." Julie Scroggins, Peterborough City Council

The certificated programme represents a unique and exciting new opportunity for those working in planning support to undertake training/development and work towards a recognised qualification. There are four modules in the programme and students need to successfully complete all four in order to obtain the Certificate of Continuing Education from Cambridge University.

For further information or to reserve your place on the October/November module please contact Shelagh Pooley.


TRA's new workshop on the Procurement and management of consultants is a must for any local authority manager tasked with commissioning consultants to undertake work for the authority.

Staff do not normally receive training in this important process and therefore can encounter difficulties when called upon to engage consultants. This one-day workshop is designed to provide practical assistance in understanding the procurement process. It provides advice on how to construct a brief, the importance of which is so often underestimated, and how to engage the best consultants. The workshop also offers advice on how to manage contracts once consultants have been appointed, so as to ensure a timely and value for money outcome for the authority.

The workshop is available on an in-house basis for individual authorities and can either be run for particular departments or for groups of s taff from a variety of departments.

It is one of a number of specialist workshops for local government managers offered by TRA, designed to help them meet the challenges they face in an ever-changing work environment. Each workshop focuses on an important element of local authority management, such as managing internal communications, project management, performance management etc. They provide participants with a toolkit of skills and a better understanding of specialist functions which they can use to improve their performance at work.

If you would like further information on any of these workshops please contact Suzanne Waldram.

Please note that the procurement workshop will also be included in TRA's inter-authority workshop programmes for planning and development practitioners in England and Scotland in 2008. Look out for details over the next few months.


TRA was recently commissioned by St. Helens Council to undertake a review of their in-house Building Control service and a review of the organisational structure of their Development Services Division, within which Building Control is located. The objective of the exercise was to identify potential improvements in the quality of service provision through business process re-engineering.

The review of Building Control was undertaken by evaluating processes and procedures; carrying out a customer consultation; comparing costs and fees; looking at performance management; and making recommendations for potential future delivery options. The review of the Development Services Division's organisa tional structure was undertaken by interviewing staff and managers in different teams and reviewing documents, procedures and performance management records.

The review, which was well received by the Council, concluded that the St. Helens Building Control service is well managed and performs very well against performance targets. It was also found that customer satisfaction is high. A number of recommendations were made for improvements, however, including the introduction of a business management system and the development of a marketing strategy. A number of recommendations were also made concerning the organisational structure of the Division.

TRA has a well-established reputation for its procedural/organisational consultancy services. In the main, these have so far been applied to the planning and development control functions but there are a number of similar options available to the building control service. We have already produced online Building Control Procedure Guides for two authorities (South Oxfordshire and East Dorset) and other types of assignment which we could undertake include:

  • reviews of the interface between building control, planning, development control and enforcement
  • reviews of the organisational structure, management, staffing and procedures within building control
  • assessments of building control business plans, marketing strategies, alternative delivery options and mechanisms
  • feasibility studies for establishing shared services etc.

If the idea of commissioning this kind of work is of interest to you please feel free to contact Penny O'Shea for a no-obligation discussion.


In the past, TRA's training for planning staff has focused mainly on development control topics. This year, however, we have introduced into our main inter-authority workshop programme in England a limited range of workshops designed specifically for those involved in forward planning. Specific topics covered are:

  • Establishing a robust evidence base for planning policy, next running in Bristol on 25 October

    Discussing issues and approaches around the issue of evidence base was a really useful day out from the office. There is still a huge challenge in store but I am more at ease with the journey in prospect. Phil Ratcliffe, Calderdale Council

  • Writing effective policies in the local development fram ework, next running in Manchester on 3 October

    Fantastic course. Well presented. Information was clearly communicated. The course has helped to boost my confidence in writing policies. Elizabeth Chimanga, Peterborough City Council

  • Effective monitoring of policy implementation, next running in York on 9 October

    I felt it was valuable that the training was facilitated by someone who has/is experiencing the process. Good use of exercises. Day was structured effectively. Naomi Henry, Mid Beds DC

In addition, we have recently developed a new one-day workshop in conjunction with the Planning Inspectorate on Examinations of Development Plan Documents. This is being run in each of our four main venues in the period September to November this year.

Also potentially of interest to forward planning staff is our new workshop on Financial Appraisal, running next in Manchester on 23 October.

If you would like to reserve places on any of these workshops, provisional bookings can be made by telephone or via our online provisional booking facility. Firm bookings can be made by completing and returning the appropriate booking form.

It is also worth bearing in mind that all of these workshops can be delivered on an in-house basis for individual authorities (or a group of neighbouring authorities). For further information please contact Suzanne Waldram.


Details are now available of the latest TRA Forum on Enforcement taking place in Warrington on Thursday 11 October 2007.

This event is hugely popular and early booking is strongly recommended.

Publicity leaflets will be circulated to our usual mailing contacts shortly. In the meantime, details of speakers and topics can be found on our website or you can download a PDF leaflet/booking form.


Later this year, TRA will be introducing a brand new one-day workshop for Building Control officers and their technical/support staff, providing a basic introduction to the planning process.

Building Control staff often work very closely with their colleagues in Development Control but often with only limited knowledge of the planning system, how it operates, and the limits and considerations which have to be kept in mind by Development Control officers. This workshop is designed to give Building Control staff a grounding in how the planning system works and will take a practical look at the following elements:

  • permitted development
  • enf orcement
  • appeals
  • planning conditions.

The workshop will help Building Control staff in their dealings with DC colleagues and will also enable them to make their own building control decisions with a greater awareness of what the implications may be in terms of planning requirements. This increased understanding should help local authorities work in a more joined-up way.

The workshop will run in York on 8 November 2007 and in London on 15 November 2007. It will be presented by Lee Prebble, one of TRA's Senior Associates. Places will be limited to 20 participants and will be priced at £186 plus VAT.

Full details will be circulated shortly to our usual Planning/Building Control mailing contacts. If you would like to receive details directly please get in touch.


TRA has begun the process of transferring its publicity circulation over to email instead of traditional postal mailshots. This will need to be done in stages and may take a while but we are keen to start building up our emailing list now.

The best way to let us have your details is to complete our mailing list sign-up form. You will be asked to provide both a postal address and an email address to cover the period of changeover and because it is likely that sending details by post may still be the most appropriate option in some cases.

Don't worry if you already receive our publicity by post - we won't duplicate your entry - and completing the form will make sure we have your up-to-date details. It also gives you the opportunity to choose the broad topic areas you are interested in.

We won't bombard you with emails and we will not pass on your information to anyone else. Details of our privacy poli cy are on the sign-up form.


Due to the popularity of the Workshop for Planning Committee Chairs & Planning Portfolio Holders, which ran with maximum participant numbers in Cambridge earlier this month, we have decided to arrange an additional workshop. This will take place in York on 10 & 11 September 2007.

To book places on the York workshop, please complete and return a booking form. To reserve places provisionally please contact Shelagh Pooley or use our online provisional booking facility.


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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