As many of you will already know, we enter 2018 saying goodbye to the last founding partner, Graham Bell as he retires from the business after 31 years.
Graham founded Bell Cornwell alongside Linda Saunders and John Cornwell in 1986. Since the business began he has worked with over 60 members of staff, been instrumental in opening 3 additional offices and worked on too many schemes for him to remember
As Graham leaves, partners Mike de Courcy, Rebekah Jubb and Iestyn John will continue to take the business forward and guide it in the same positive direction and ethos that has been adopted from day one.
Graham has seen a lot of changes in the industry and worked on a wide spectrum of projects. Before he retired, we wanted to find out more about his planning work over the years and what maintained his passion for planning.
Have you seen a lot of changes in the planning industry since you first started over 30 years ago?
Yes, the main change I have seen is the speed of a decision with planners in consultancy. When I first joined the planning industry everything was done by post, so you would send the request off in the post and then any questions were posted back to you for information. The report would then be submitted and the whole process would take around 2-3 weeks whereas now everything is digital and people want answers in hours! I also think that planning is now more of a process with no room for intuition as there are now more guidelines to be met than there used to be and the reports are far more detailed. The planning system has completely changed but I do feel it has changed for the better. Decision making is more transparent. However, one thing I do think is a change for the worse is the fact that now there is much more information accessible online and this can make projects become more controversial. There have been tougher and easier periods over the last 30 years.
What do you feel has been your greatest work achievement?
Getting to being here for 30 years. Seeing staff stay with the company and working their way up the ladder is also very nice to see. I have also enjoyed every approval and appeal that I’ve won; it’s a great thrill. The Wall Hall scheme on a Green Belt site for Octagon is a project that particularly stands out because it took me a long time and the right result was achieved. It is always rewarding to be involved with a project right from the beginning and then see it as a finished project that people are either living in, working in or benefiting from, that is very satisfying.
How has Bell Cornwell grown over the last 30 years?
Organically. The company has grown as envisioned. Never will we be the biggest but we want to be seen as one of the best planning consultancies to go to. Our philosophy is listening to the client and planning for their success. Sticking to time frames set. We have never wanted to be multi-disciplinary, just stick to town planning and not other services. This allows us more control and coordination. We can work with clients’ favourite architects and surveyors, we are very flexible. We also pride ourselves on being a ‘team player’ company, being the client’s guide and being respected for having a good work ethic and always sticking to our moto – providing clear, realistic advice.
What are your plans for retirement?
Getting involved with more community affairs as I already look after the village memorial hall. Help with the community scheme, see more places, play more golf, landscaping and gardening, volunteering and supporting. I am interested in singing and drumming and my wife and I are considering travelling in a camper van around England and overseas.
What is your background in planning? What made you want to become a planner?
I am a fan of Geography and graduated from Southampton University in 1977 with a degree in Geography. In the late 70s a geographer could become a planner on a trainee basis which is what I did with Surrey Heath Council. During my time at Surrey Heath I could go on day release to work on my diploma in town planning at Oxford Brookes which I did over 3 years. I then went on to RTPI in 1982. My next qualification was gained in the mid-90s, just after the recession, when I studied part time over 2 years for my masters again at Oxford Brookes in Environmental Assessment which is an interest of mine as I like to see how the environment around us changes.
What advice would you give to anyone thinking of becoming a planner?
Do it. Find a specialist in planning, for example heritage or environmental design, something you can put your name to. Planning influences the world around us and has a big impact on everything which is a really rewarding element of the job. It is now easier to go directly onto a planning course but on the flip side it is harder to get into local authority which is another good place to learn with good opportunities available.