As we approach the festive season and the end of 2013, it won’t be long before the industry press and Saturday supplements fill their pages with lists of “2013 Top 10…” and start their predictions for next year with “10 things to watch out for in 2014”.

Getting in early on the act were a couple of surveys published in the last week – the Planning Magazine released their “Planning Consultancy Survey 2013”, and the Estates Gazette published their Salary & Benefits Survey for 2013. In both cases the overall sentiment was positive, with phrases such as “sustained growth” and a “step up in the market” appearing in the first survey, while the Estates Gazette opens with the encouraging phrase that “if ever there was a time to negotiate a pay rise it might just be now…”.

So you should go to your boss and demand a pay rise – and if you are the boss you should expect a stampede to your door, right? Well, the Estates Gazette Survey has a puzzling statistic in its publication – under the current average salary analysis for planning firms, it suggests that the average salary for staff has fallen from £50,833 to £43,137 in the last year. We’ve been mulling over this in the office, because certainly our view is that the sector has been positive to nearly booming in some areas. The Planning survey supports this with some encouraging statistics in their staffing section, reporting that the majority of the Top 20 consultancies increased their numbers this year, and, importantly the number of student and licenciate members of the RTPI are up to 159 from 128 last year. What it looks like then, is not so much that planners have suffered a 15% pay cut; but rather the increased number of juniors – let’s call them “baby boomers” – joining the industry has lowered the average salary, reflected in the statistics.

We’ve been very conscious of the lack of town planning roles available to new town planners over the last 5 years, so this figure really is a massive step forward. What we are left with though, is a “missing generation” of planners who would now be at senior/associate level. Those entering the sector may find themselves given responsibility more quickly while those at senior and associate level will probably find an increase in the number of headhunting calls they are receiving!

What to expect in 2014?
Well, the consultancies are predicting a further increase in headcount with 49% saying they hoped to expand. 75% said that revenues had risen in the year to March 2013 and a similar number expected a rise again this year. Aside from residential, energy and infrastructure projects have contributed to this. So the demand for planners will only increase and we’d expect more movement between firms as individuals have more confidence in the future. We have seen consultancies re-align their businesses internally and so we would expect to see more announcements in 2014 such as that from GVA this week of senior personnel changes. All of this suggests a steady return to the market pre-2008.

The final piece of the puzzle will be what the housebuilders and developers do next year; our colleagues are recruiting elsewhere in their businesses and we’ll know the market’s true strength when the developers seek to significantly add to their internal planning and development teams.

So, should you demand a pay rise? Well, there is no doubt that now is a better time to be asking that at any other point in the last 5 years. Currently, it seems that for the majority involved in the planning sector are having a busy end to 2013 and looking forward to a bright start in 2014.

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