Friday Interview: Karen Read on town planning and navigating the pandemic
Karen Read is director of KLR Planning Ltd, a town planning consultancy based in Newcastle. We chatted with Karen about her career, the planning process and the impact of COVID-19.
In Partnership with KLR Planning LTD
Tell us about yourself and a brief history of your career.
I am a town planner and have worked in the private sector throughout my career. I’m also the founder and director of KLR Planning Ltd. I graduated in 1993 with a degree in Economic Development and Planning and started work with a development and planning firm, Roger Tym & Partners, in Manchester. From there I moved to national town planning consultancy, DPP Ltd (now trading as DPP UK Ltd).
I moved to the North East in 2002 to take up a position with law firm Muckle LLP. While with the firm I set up the in-house planning unit. In 2007 I returned to DPP to set up and lead their North East office based in Newcastle before moving to Signet Planning as a Regional Director in 2011.
It wasn’t until 2015 that I left employment to set up KLR Planning Ltd and I haven’t looked back since.
How did you end up working for yourself?
At the start of 2015, following on from the crash of 2008, there were positive signs that activity in the commercial property market was picking up and developers were looking to fast-forward projects that had been on hold over the previous few years.
This shift in the market gave me the nudge, and the confidence, to establish my own town planning consultancy. I’d already established a number of relationships with clients who had been happy to work with me for many years so my business was born out of those well-established connections – thankfully it worked out and I’ve been enjoying business growth ever since.
We love a business success story! What do you do for your clients?
At KLR Planning we provide advice to commercial companies that need help navigating the town planning system. We help our clients by establishing the options and timescales of projects and by determining a strategy for the specific planning needs they have. This could be anything from preparing and submitting a planning application, pursuing appeals, or assessing a property portfolio to establish its development value.
The planning process can seem arduous and scary to the uninitiated, which is why we use our experience of the process to help our clients navigate the various avenues of planning. We work in the retail, commercial, leisure, hotel, education and regeneration sectors to guide our clients from the very beginning of projects, to seeing the end result. It’s a passion and we genuinely love working with exciting clients and projects to make our towns and cities better places to live, visit and work.
How has the Coronavirus pandemic changed your business?
The very core of our business, day to day, hasn’t changed at all. We’re still able to advise a wide range of companies on the town planning system. Our commercial clients still need to use the town planning system to secure permissions for the new developments they’re planning, and we can work remotely with them to do that.
I do work from an office space in Newcastle but I’ve always retained a full office set up at home, which meant that when lockdown happened I was able to work from home in the comfort of a dedicated space rather than having to take to my laptop on my kitchen table.
For that reason, the impact on my business has been minimal. I know I’m speaking to people more, which is an unexpected bonus. It’s been brilliant to have personal contact even during lockdown. All my meetings are possible to carry out online and I’ve managed to reduce the number of meetings I’m having. I do miss face to face contact with business associates but there have been a few virtual coffee meetings and a few virtual ‘Friday beers’ too. I’ve been very lucky.
How have you been helping your clients through the pandemic?
The Government has put in place some temporary regulations to allow the town planning system to continue to function through the crisis. It’s vital that clients are kept informed about the changes taking place so they can understand the time delays and potential risks of projects. I’ve been key in facilitating that communication with my clients.
In terms of services, I’ve been providing advice about the prospects of securing planning permission for development of a site or change of use of a building. I can help my clients with the preparation and submission of planning applications, drafting technical documents such as Planning Statements and Retail Statements.
I can also help clients who have had planning applications refused. Several of my clients have assumed that planning and other such systems have ceased to operate during the lockdown but that isn’t the case at all. On the contrary, now is a great time to get the ball rolling on developments and projects.
Are you still working through the pandemic?
Yes, I am. The pace has slowed slightly as some technical work to support planning applications has not gone ahead during the lockdown. That’s resulted in a bit of delay, but I am very lucky that clients have continued with the projects during this time.
What will the planning landscape be like post-COVID-19?
The world of development will no doubt be changed following the pandemic, but I believe that there will still be developments happening. The way we use buildings and organise our spaces will change, however. There will still be a need for new homes and business premises, but will those businesses require office space for all employees to be on-site working every day?
There is an on-going discussion about shops and the impact of Covid-19 on the high street and what attracts people to town centres.
“I have worked with Karen for a number of years on multiple projects, and with great success in achieving planning approvals. Karen is very professional and extremely knowledgeable on all planning matters, a great asset to our consultant team. She is very personable and a pleasure to work alongside, I would highly recommend her to any development team.” – Mark Jansz, Director at Projekt Architects
“Karen is a very experienced planning consultant whose insight into planning legislation and policy has always proved essential and whose guidance as a lead consultant has been effective in achieving planning consent for a number of our sites. She has always proven to be a very valuable member of any consultancy team.” – Mike Clark – Dysart
“We have worked with Karen for a number of years and had no hesitation in retaining her services when she embarked upon KLR Planning. There was one simple reason for this – she always delivers. Without exception, she has worked with us on various projects, cut through the increasing swathes of red tape and delivered a planning approval that has helped our business move forward.” – Graham Palmer – JBT Waste Serviceshttps://www.klrplanning.co.uk