CONSTRUCTING THE RIGHT CAREER PATH
Name: Natasha Douglas
Job Title: Planning manager
WHAT DID YOU WANT TO BE WHEN YOU WERE A CHILD?
When I was little I really wanted to be a paleontologist or an archaeologist. I absolutely loved dinosaurs and the historic environment. Time Team was constantly on when I was at home and I enjoyed watching how their digs panned out. When I was making my university choices my dad highlighted to me that I wasn’t a huge lover of getting dirty or covered in mud so I reconsidered my options.
WHAT MADE YOU STUDY PLANNING AND DEVELOPMENT AT ABERDEEN UNI?
I decided to study something which was going to secure me employment out of the muddy trenches. The construction industry was of great interest to me and when I discovered the Planning and Development course at Aberdeen University was dual accredited by both the RICS and RTPI, my mind was made up.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE MEMORY FROM YOUR UNI DAYS?
I had a great time at university and made some great friends. One of the last group study trips was to Newcastle to see the regeneration of Gateshead and Byker Grove. As we were studying regeneration at the time it was interesting to see the subjects of our lectures and the social aspect was fun too.
WHAT ARE THE MAIN CAREER STEPS SINCE LEAVING UNI?
My first job was with a residential developer as an assistant land buyer in Stirling. It was a great starting point as I was able to work on a number of projects from promoting land for development to purchasing sites. After two years I moved to an architectural practice where I worked towards achieving MRTPI status.
I then spent four years working for a commercial property advisor where I was lucky to be involved in a huge variety of projects and I learnt a lot during my time there.
I was appointed planning manager at Dandara 18 months ago, assuming responsibility for taking forward major residential and commercial developments across the north east.
When I first returned to Aberdeen I joined the city branch of Women in Property (WIP), which helped to me really expand my network of contacts in the industry. I also joined its mentoring programme and was lucky to be paired with Jean Dent, former development director at Leeds City Council. Jean was an excellent mentor and a great sounding board.
I was also chairwoman of WIP for a year overseeing a number of successful networking events and the WIP annual Student Awards.
CAN YOU TELL ME WHAT YOUR ROLE AT DANDARA INVOLVES?
I am responsible for all residential and commercial planning matters for Dandara. There are a number of key tasks, focussed on making and achieving successful approvals for our planning applications. This includes issues such as providing advice on development potential, undertaking community consultations and promoting land for development, to work on discharging conditions.
Making sure that I am completely up to speed with national and local planning policy is absolutely vital for my role. I also have to review all planning submissions to make sure they are compliant with local development plan policies, as well any masterplans and development briefs which may exist for a site.
When I’m in the office, I sit with the design team so I can be on hand to answer any planning related queries they may have.
WHAT SKILLS DO YOU HAVE THAT MAKE YOU GOOD AT YOUR JOB?
Given the nature of the construction industry, my priorities can change at short notice so I need to be very organised and really adaptable to change. In my role I’m constantly up against deadlines so it’s important that I remain focused in order to meet them.
Good communication skills and people skills are vital in my role as a number of individuals including architects, surveyors and engineers all feed into the planning process and I need to be able to work with them individually, and as part of a team.
WHAT DO YOU ENJOY ABOUT YOUR JOB?
I work with a great team at Dandara and learn something new from them every day. As Dandara are extremely active in the north east they have a real variety of projects for me to get involved in and I am fortunate to be able to work on what are some of the most prestigious developments going ahead across Scotland.
In previous positions, my involvement often ended when I had achieved a planning consent, however working for Dandara means that successfully receiving a planning permission is not the end of the line for me. I maintain involvement throughout the development process and I also get the opportunity to see it all happen on site visits.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE CHALLENGES YOU FACE?
I have a heavy and demanding workload, with many projects of equal importance landing on my desk at the same time. It is vital that I give each one the attention needed to get it over the line. To do this I have to manage my time well.
IF MONEY WAS NO OBJECT WHAT IS A LUXURY ITEM YOU WOULD HAVE IN YOUR HOME?
I think relaxing is really important so I would have to say a fully manned spa.
DO YOU HAVE A GOOD WORK / LIFE BALANCE? IF SO HOW DO YOU ACHIEVE IT?
I start work at 8am and do not leave the office until after 5.30pm. I find the hours before 9am and after 5pm to be quiet and very productive for me. I am always aware of the demands on me at work but find if I am focused during the working day I can achieve what I need to and seldom need to work late. I am part of a great team with support available if I ever need it.
In my free time I enjoy taking part in amateur dramatic productions in Aberdeen. I’ve been a member of the Lyric Musical Society for four years now and have performed in Singing in the Rain, Kiss Me Kate, Annie and Sister Act at HMT.