• Women in Planning

Day in the Life of...

Updated: May 3, 2020

Alice Lester, MBE

Alice Lester MBE (MRTPI) has spent her whole working life in public sector planning. She has been Head of Planning, Transport and Licensing at Brent since October 2016. Before that she was the head of the Planning Advisory Service, a grant funded programme within the Local Government Association. Over the 11 years that Alice was at PAS, she worked on a variety of projects with local authorities in England to support ongoing improvement in delivering planning services, and in implementing the government’s planning reform agenda. Alice started her planning career in Development Management at Westminster Council, before moving to Camden for ten years, and then Islington Council for five years as Development Management Manager. Alice also contributes to the planning sector in other ways; she has been a Trustee of the TCPA, an external examiner for planning courses at Newcastle and Oxford Brookes Universities and is a Local Government Association Planning Peer. Alice was included in The Planning list of the most influential women in Planning for 2017 and 2018 and was awarded an MBE in the 2016 New Year’s Honours for services to Planning.

What does your typical working day look like? My day starts…

Fairly early, my alarm goes off at 6.20am. I potter around at home for a while, perhaps making a packed lunch or walking into rooms and then wondering why. I walk my lovely labradoodle around the block then set off on my 4.5-mile cycle into work, gathering my thoughts about the day ahead. In my working day…

I would like to have a permanent out of office message which says, 'I'm probably in a meeting....'. There is so much going on when leading a reasonably large planning service. I might have a meeting with the Leader and Lead Member with a developer wanting to invest in a pro-growth borough, checking over sections of our emerging Local Plan, working on the pipeline of strategic applications and arranging pre-application presentations to committee, liaising with Councillors or dealing with staff matters. Budget setting time is coming up so there are some serious decisions to be made about the shape of my service, in the face of ongoing changes and expectations from government and of course the public. It is a mixture of easy and difficult, interesting and boring, but mostly fun. On an evening…

Always different, usually busy, with a combination of work commitments (committees and other Councillor meetings), socialising (I love my monthly book club), walking our dog and being at home. My day ends…

Usually a quick reminder of what I have on at work the next day, before snoozing in front of the television watching some of the great TV dramas on at the moment, then with a 10 minute read in bed.

How do you unwind on an evening or weekend? Unwind? Not sure I know the meaning of the word - I am always on the go. There is often wine involved. I enjoy being at home, but I also love my book club and running (well I love my running friends!). I recently did a Race for Life Half Marathon in Lee Valley Country Park – I would really recommend because a) it is important and b) it is a beautiful run, the best half marathon I have ever done. What is your favourite/most rewarding project you have worked on? Tricky. I love my current job, but I think I am proudest of the Planning Advisory Service and all the work we did to help local authorities across the country. What are the best and worst bits about your job? The best is that I love working for a council. You get to make the decisions and set the policy (vision/direction) for a place. I really can influence the environment – hopefully for the better! Who has had the biggest influence on your career and why? So many – from inspirational managers to clever cool colleagues. But I’d have to say my job share partner for 10 years Phillipa Silcock – we were each other’s professional support, adviser, laughing mate and friend. What is the best bit of advice you have received in your career? Said by a boss when I had a temp job at a dry cleaner and had given out the wrong clothes to someone: “the only people who never make mistakes are people who never do anything”. What is your favourite place? Global – London Local – my house, when full of family.

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