• Women in Planning

A Day in the Life of...

Sara Sweeney Sara Sweeney is a Chartered Town Planner and a RICS Planning & Development Candidate working towards full membership. Sara currently works as a Planning Manager at London-based private developer Kitewood. She is also a member of the committee for Women in Planning London and will be chairing our next event, “When Women Plan London – from Application to Completion” on 4th September (click here to find out more). What does your typical working day look like?

My day starts…

usually at 7am, or 5:30am if I am feeling energetic enough to go to a HIIT class before work In my working day…

I get stuck in…preparing for and attending meetings, site visits, providing strategy advice, attend Local Plan Examination in Public (EiP) hearing sessions as required, review reports and consultant appointments, etc., attend Planning Committee or public consultation meetings/events in the evening where necessary. On an evening…

I like to mix thing up with a variety of social and work-related activities such as; catching up with friends for dinner, work/networking drinks, gym classes, attending a CPD event (or Women in Planning London Committee meeting), cooking, reading, catching-up on TV, or on the rare occasion I’ll get my sketch pad out! My day ends…

with a shower and bed by 10:30p.m. How do you unwind on an evening or weekend? ​ To unwind I really enjoy HIIT classes, long walks home from work (3.5 miles door to door) and socialising! ​ I am an avid explorer and most weekends I can be found ‘touristing’ around London and further afield, as keenly documented on my Instagram. ​ What is your favourite/most rewarding project you have worked on? ​ I don’t have one favourite as they have all been rewarding in their own ways and I have gained in knowledge and experience. ​ However, last week we secured planning consent for 52 homes in Bracknell and I feel a real sense of achievement because I had complete responsibility of the project from start (pre-application meetings) to finish (Grant of Decision Notice). Although this is a relatively small scheme, it was extremely challenging for both planning and commercial reasons. ​ We worked in consortium with two other developers to bring forward three separate planning applications linked by one overarching s106 Agreement. It took 11 months from achieving a resolution to grant to negotiate the s106 Agreement. We finally got there achieving planning consents that we were all happy with! ​ What are the best and worst bits about your job? ​ The best part of my job is working with a wide variety of professionals and stakeholders, such as architects, ecologists, highways and drainage engineers, Local Planning Authorities, landowners and the community. One of my favourite sayings is “every day is a school day” because most days I learn something new; whether that be about Japanese knotweed legislation, foul drainage connection charges, greenfield run-off rates, highways mitigation measures - you quickly learn that you can never know enough! ​ Working in-house for a developer provides great exposure to the commercial reality of the projects that I manage through the planning process, and I really enjoy working with my colleagues to ensure that the proposals are deliverable. ​ Rather than say the worst part of my job, I’d prefer to say that the most challenging part of my job is; the uncertainty of the plan-making process. There is often an element of ‘crystal ball gazing’ that requires me to make various assumptions about the planning and political decisions that may be made during the process and the time it will take from commencing promotion to (all going well) submitting a planning application and to achieving a consent. From the perspective of a logical thinking Planner, I can often see no rhyme or reason for the political decisions that are taken and this can be very frustrating. ​ Another aspect that I find challenging is the negative sentiment towards developers that I have experienced first-hand. The “unscrupulous developers” mentality needs to change if we want to ensure community engagement is a collaborative process and that the principle of development is supported at a local level. ​ Who has had the biggest influence on your career and why? ​ I would say that my dad has had the most influence on my career – cliché, I know. ​ He is a property developer (residential conversions and house building on a small scale) so I have always been very aware of the built environment and had a keen interest in development. Although Dad wasn’t enthused about my aspirations to be a Town Planner, he has always encouraged me to work hard and keep striving to achieve more. What is the best bit of advice you have received in your career? ​ Never fear asserting your (justified) opinion, even in the face of challenge. ​ What is your favourite place? ​ London without a doubt!

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