After more than 16 years in the business – from geography student to town planner – Hames Sharley WA’s Planning Manager, Malcolm Somers, may well be Australia’s longest serving Registered Planner – or so he’d like to think.

Awarded the lofty title earlier this month, Malcolm is one of just 30 Certified Practicing Planners (CPP) in the country who undertook the Planning Institute of Australia’s (PIA) pilot for its new Registered Planner accreditation – happily committing himself to a lifetime of learning.

“I got into planning because I loved geography at school – when I went to uni I soon realised that I could use my skills and love for the land to better understand and contribute to the built environment – so I went on to study statutory planning, and haven’t looked back since,” Malcolm said.

“I’ve been a member of PIA for ten years now, I joined pretty much as soon as I came to Hames Sharley in 2000 and it’s been fantastic for my professional development,” Malcolm said.

“Around the time I joined PIA they were introducing the CPP accreditation for Australian planners, which was meant to be the planning equivalent of a Registered Architect or Certified Practicing Accountant – so I willingly became one of their first CPPs.

“The new Registered Planner accreditation is another step on from this, and is really about introducing more rigour around the planner certification process.”

As Australia’s national professional association for urban and regional planners, PIA has over 5200 members nationally and internationally – priding itself on its commitment to competency in Australia’s planning industry.

Kirsty Kelly, CEO of PIA, said that while the new Registered Planner accreditation might just seem like a name change, it’s about solidifying PIA’s commitment to the quality and ongoing training of Australia’s future planners.

“The Registered Planner accreditation is just one of the things we’re doing to ensure the high quality of Australia’s planners,” Kirsty said.

“We’re responsible for accrediting over 54 planning courses at 22 Australian universities and also do a significant amount of training and professional development for planners around the country.

“There’s also a strong focus on policy and advocacy to government around planning, both federally and in the states and territories.

“Planning is so important to the future of our built environments and communities, we take the professional standards of our industry incredibly seriously.”

As a statutory planner, Malcolm has found his association with PIA incredibly valuable, particularly in his role at Hames Sharley.

“Because it’s my job to research the rules, regulations and policy side of planning, I really rely on PIA to stay up to date with the latest information and changes in policy and practice,” Malcolm said.

“At Hames Sharley, there’s a large focus on urban and strategic planning, so it’s my role to take care of the reporting side of things – like preparation of local planning policies and development applications.

“I often say I’m the only one here who doesn’t draw – I leave all of the creative stuff to the architects and designers and just do my best to keep everyone on the straight and narrow”.

“It’s my job to get plans approved with as little fuss as possible – so staying informed is essential.”

And according to Kirsty, keeping Australia’s planners informed and skilled is one of the key drivers behind PIA and its new Registered Planner accreditation.

“You can become a PIA member at any stage of your career when you’re studying you can take up a student membership when you graduate you can become a graduate member and then once you’ve started working full time you can become a full planner member,” she said.

“After five years working as a planner, members can apply to become registered, providing they are assessed by PIA as being competent – with Registered Planners we’ve taken a competency-based approach to our accreditation.”

Following an extensive engagement process with PIA membership, which outlined the “key attributes of a great planner” the new competency-based assessment for Registered Planners is made up of six practice areas:

  1. Professionalism and integrity;
  2. Understanding, interpreting and using spatial thinking;
  3. Using a creative and integrative approach, drawing on a range of disciplines and methods;
  4. Communicating and engaging with stakeholders;
  5. Understanding and working with planning frameworks; and
  6. Developing and applying technical knowledge.

“PIA Registered Planners is really a quality assurance certification so that those seeking planning advice – whether they be government or industry employers – can be assured that the planners they are dealing with are competent and will adhere to PIA’s strict code of conduct,” Kirsty said.

“To ensure the robustness and credibility of the program we’ve been rolling it out in stages and seeking feedback every step of the way.

“Following the success of the pilot stages, the idea is to roll out the new program in its entirety between September and December this year.”

As for Malcolm, the wait for registration is now officially over.

“I got my registration a few weeks ago now, and if I maintain my status through ongoing skill building I could very well be Australia’s longest serving Registered Planner one day,” he laughed. “I’m a bit of a trailblazer really.”

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