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Influential planning boss gives Architecture students the benefit of his experience

Architecture students from De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) were able to benefit from the substantial experience of one of the city’s most influential town planning figures at an insightful lecture last month.

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Grant Butterworth, Head of Planning at Leicester City Council, passed on his extensive knowledge of the planning process to the university’s Architectural Practice Postgraduate Diploma students in a near two-hour session at DMU’s landmark Vijay Patel building.

Mr Butterworth has worked in local authority planning since 1987, including at Nottingham City Council for 25 years, at Liverpool City Council and now at Leicester City Council.

He sought to make the session as interactive as possible by engaging with the postgraduate students, all of whom are now working at architectural firms up and down the country, from London, Milton Keynes and Gloucestershire to Birmingham, Derbyshire and here in Leicester. They are all in full employment and on their way to becoming registered architects pending their final professional exam.

The lecture featured several real-world examples and charted the journey a planning application takes from start to finish with anecdotes outlining the difficulties that can arise to hinder a proposal’s progress.

Around 90 per cent of all planning decisions are now delegated to planning officers rather than going through a local authority planning committee, students were told, and only about six per cent of all proposals are refused each year.

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Pictures of architectural drawings shown on a big screen illustrated the subtle and sometimes dramatic revisions that were needed to ensure some of Leicester’s most high-profile buildings were compliant with the planning laws and able to go-ahead.

Mr Butterworth emphasised a collaborative approach and said a good working relationship between planning officers and architects is advisable to help with the smooth-running of big projects.

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He outlined the government policies and outside interests which impact on the process and explained all the different functions of a modern city council planning department, including enforcement.

He showed an example of one such case from Meadvale Road, Leicester, where 20 tons of waste were collected from a resident’s garden after the city council succeeding in a site clearance order. The authority’s work on the case has been nominated for a Royal Town Planning Institute national excellence award.

Leicester’s rich architectural heritage, dating back 2,000 years, was also touched on by Mr Butterworth. The city has 396 listed buildings – 13 of which are of the highest Grade I-listed status – 24 conservation areas, ten scheduled monuments and six registered parks, he outlined.

Mr Butterworth said: “I really welcome and enjoy the opportunity to work with our local universities in general, and with the Leicester School of Architecture at DMU in particular.

“This is the third time I’ve been asked to help the students develop a better shared understanding of planning and each time I have been very impressed by the quality of debate and lively engagement in the talk.

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“It is clear to me that the quality education and placements in practice which DMU students have secured is not only giving them valuable personal experience but is also equipping them very well to give me valuable and up-to-date insights into the perspective of the architecture profession which I really appreciate too.”

Some of Mr Butterworth’s colleagues from the city council’s Building Control department have also given presentations to the postgraduate students.

Dr Jamileh Manoochehri, Subject Head for Professional Studies at DMU’s Leicester School of Architecture, said: “We are very grateful to Grant for taking the time to speak with our students.

“We invited Mr Butterworth and his colleagues to make presentations in our Postgraduate Diploma course in Professional Practice in order to pave the wave for closer relations with the local authority as well as practitioners in Leicester.

“These contacts have been very much welcomed by our Part 3 candidates, assisting them in building up a collaborative vision of how architects and local authorities may form constructive relations with other key professionals who determine the quality of our cities and environment.”

Mr Butterworth is also a supporter of the ‘City Series 2017’ organised by the Leicester Urban Observatory, a group of planning professionals and academics which includes DMU and the city council.

Posted on Friday 31st March 2017

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