Our newest member of the Bell Cornwell team is Alex Mitchell. He joined in September last year after working for the Planning Bureau in the Midlands. We find out more about his planning background and find out how planning projects here compare with those in the Midlands.
Let’s start with your planning background, how did your career start?
I gained my BA Honours in Town and Country Planning at Birmingham City University which then led to me gaining my Masters in Property Development. I then went on to work in the local authority for a couple of years but my ambition was always to work in the private sector. I always wanted to gain some grounding and knowledge of how local authority worked before I moved onto the private sector and this is something I use to my advantage.
You have recently moved down to Surrey from Birmingham; would you say there are many differences in the projects that you carry out in this part of the country compared to the Midlands?
I would say there is a greater geographical sensitivity in Surrey compared to Birmingham, especially because of the amount of Green Belt land and Special Protection Area. However, I have found that there is more competition for sites down here due to the higher population resulting in higher demand for development. One thing that did surprise me is the impact London has on the surrounding areas. It stretches much further than I anticipated and I underestimated the role London plays on the South East’s planning market before I came here, but it keeps me busy!
You previously worked in Local Government as an Enforcement officer in a County Council’s Waste & Minerals Department. How did the workload there compare to your current workload in a private practice?
I find that working in private practice is more demanding and it operates at a much faster rate. Thankfully this is something I can appreciate as I enjoy the intensity of the work and the can-do attitude that we have here. One difference I do notice is that working for the council there was more flexibility within the projects due to economic reasons.
You played a major role in McCarthy and Stone gaining approval on their first ever 100% bungalow scheme in Norfolk….
It was a career highlight for me and something that I never envisaged happening when I first started. I was the key lead on the project and took on a lot of responsibility and left quite a lot of pressure on my shoulders. The project also contributed to our team winning the National Planning Design Team of the year award which is something I am incredibly proud of.
A Planner isn’t something that people always choose to invest in, why would you recommend using a Planner?
As planners we have a wider knowledge base that expands beyond policy to wider implications such as political matters and this kind of knowledge can only really come from experience. We must be constantly up to date with policies in order to get the best result out of any site and understanding the up to date strategic regional policy is one that can really put you ahead. We also provide clients with an overview and clarity on all aspects of the development proposals we set out for them and this helps in keeping them involved with every step of the process and ensuring they know exactly what is going on. When I have a project in front of me I will always weigh up the pros and cons and draw upon opportunities that others may not be able to see. Essentially, we aim to provide all our clients with the best project management and advice that we can.