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Environmental Planning Graduates in Big Demand

25 January 2008

Environmental Planning Graduates in Big Demand

Lincoln University specialists say a chronic shortage of urban and environmental planners is becoming a real challenge, with bright students turned off by frequent criticism and debate within the property and land development sectors.

Christchurch developers have sounded their dissatisfaction with consent processes again this week, describing council planning procedures as slow, inefficient and overly expensive (The Press, Wednesday January 23).

Dr Hamish Rennie, Senior Lecturer in Environmental Management, says it’s hardly surprising that some young people are put off a career in planning.

“We have noticed a small increase in student applications for this year, but it’s too early to say whether we have enough coming through to satisfy the demand for graduates.”

He says part of the problem for the planning profession is in its name – which is general enough to cover a broad range of roles but does little to encourage young people to pursue a planning career.

“If people thought of planners as environmental strategists, which is what many planners are, it might hold more appeal. But the problem is that planners have a wide range of roles, and no-one in urban planning or fisheries management would consider themselves an environmental strategist.

“Planners do some extremely interesting and diverse work. They help to make positive changes in the world around them and help people to work through a process while maintaining community values.”

Dr Ali Memon, Professor of Planning and Environmental Management, says New Zealand planners are well regarded overseas and many planners with a few years experience are head hunted by agencies in the UK and Australia. The best students in the Bachelor of Environmental Management (BEM) programme are usually snapped up by employers mid-way through their final semester. Most take positions in local and regional authorities on a starting salary of more than $40,000, and advance steadily up the pay scale. Planning graduates with a Masters in Environmental Policy degree, which gives automatic accreditation with the New Zealand Planning Institute, are also in big demand.

Ali Memon says enrolments in both the undergraduate and post graduate programmes have remained static over the past few years. “It’s not surprising that some students are discouraged from choosing the planning stream in their degree, when all we usually hear about these people is criticism from developers and people who don’t understand what planners do. Planning decisions are inevitably controversial because they often have to balance competing and conflicting values. Developers have to understand that protecting the public interest is a paramount function of district and regional councils under the RMA.


“But for students with a good background in science, geography or social studies there is an opportunity to gain some excellent training in a resource consent investigation role and to progress steadily into senior positions.”

“We would particularly like to see more young people with a rural background coming into the planning profession, because at the moment it is largely urban people who are involved in rural and environmental planning issues.”

Dr Stefanie Rixecker, head of the Environment Society and Design Division, says this year’s application numbers are encouraging but only a start. “We see these programmes as flagships and we are increasing our efforts to attract both school leavers and mature students who are seeking to transition into a new and challenging career.”

“One of the first things we can do is give greater recognition to planning within the Environmental Management programmes with a more specific degree title. It is likely our Environmental Management degree will be offered as a Bachelor of Environment Management and Planning from 2009, subject to final approval.”

About the Environment, Society and Design Division
The Environment, Society and Design Division provides expertise in Environmental Management and Environmental Design, Natural Resources and Urban Planning, Landscape Architecture; Tourism, Social Sciences, Māori and Indigenous Planning and Development, Recreation Management, Transport Studies and Software & Information Technology. It is made up of six groups: Applied Computing; Environmental Management (includes Transport Studies); Landscape Architecture; the Natural Resources Engineering Group; the Social Science, Parks, Recreation and Tourism Group; and Te Whanake. The Division also runs two research centres – the Isaac Centre for Nature Conservation, and the Tourism and Recreation Research and Education Centre.


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