To mark World Town Planning Day this year, we’ve sat down with one of our recent graduate planners, Usamah Iqbal, to hear his reflections on his career so far and what he likes most about working in the sector.

So, Usamah, tell us briefly about where you work and what you spend most of your time doing

I joined the Edinburgh office in January 2022 and, in fact, hold the accolade of being Pegasus’s first planner in Edinburgh! There are three of us in the office and we cover planning and heritage. One of the main reasons Pegasus opened an office in Edinburgh was because of the huge growth in renewable energy projects across Scotland, so I spend a good deal of my time working on these types of projects.

Can you tell us a bit more about the renewable energy projects you’ve had the chance to get involved with?

Recently I’ve been working on some interesting battery energy storage schemes. The interesting thing is that while stakeholders and communities in general support the idea of progressing the country’s renewable energy capabilities, they’re still concerned about the nuts and bolts of the infrastructure and technology itself. Battery energy storage facilities can be unsightly to nearby residents who may raise concerns about disruption, noise and fire safety.

I see it as a challenge to see how best we can present the development proposal and make sure the community’s views are heard and properly considered.

About public consultation… how important do you feel that is in the planning process?

It’s hugely important. We’re trying to build sustainable developments that are not only environmentally viable but also socially and economically viable. I enjoy public consultations because I get to speak to people from all walks of life. We might be the technical experts but they’re the local experts and they can make us aware of a local issue that we might not have picked up in a desk-top survey.

What’s your favourite part a project?

The problem-solving side of it. I enjoy trying to figure out what we need to do in order to deliver on our client’s brief.

As a planner I get to speak to all the various consultants (noise, heritage experts and so on) and work together to decide how we’re going to shape the development, taking all things into consideration. I like trying to come to a consensus where everyone is going to be happy – or, if that’s not possible, then the best solution, in order to submit the best possible development proposal.

Yes, the problem-solving side is quite exciting. Challenging, but also rewarding.

At the risk of getting a little too geeky about planning here, how do you think Scotland’s national plan (NPF4) compares with England’s (NPPF)?

The general thrust of NPF4 is great because, unlike NPPF, it puts climate change, and how we are going to tackle it, front and centre. We are seeing a renewed impetus reflected in our own work in Edinburgh, with a big uptick in energy projects coming through. However I suspect that the reality of site-specific proposals may test the public’s commitment to tackling climate change.

For me, I think there are some policies in NPF4 that need to be looked at in more detail, for example, delivering local living and 20-minute neighbourhoods. We need to make sure that we deal with inequalities and achieve genuine social cohesion.

What’s on your bucket list, career wise?

I’ve put myself forward for energy-related work and it’s been a good move for me.

The environmental and economic case for new renewable energy projects is only going to snowball, and we’re going to need to deliver not only the turbines and panels etc, but also the wider infrastructure and storage facilities to make sure we’re providing a steady connection to the grid.

As a country, we’ve got ambitions to create new homes, but we’ll need to provide electricity to those homes. Plus, changes to building regulations mean that new homes are going to have to switch from gas to electricity, so we’re going to need a heck of a lot more clean electricity to power our homes. Going forward I want to become a specialist in the renewable energy sector and have a leading role.

What was the best thing about the graduate programme?

We received fantastic training all together, deepening our technical knowledge across Pegasus’s areas of expertise, and also on softer skills like presentation skills, project management and even personality testing (fascinating!).

Plus, I’ve developed some fantastic work friends across the country that I’m able to work with on projects. Even though our intake on the graduate programme has graduated, I’m confident we’ll all keep in touch.

And finally, what did you want to be when you were a kid?

Actually, I’ve always been interested in the built environment. I originally wanted to be an architect so went to university to study architectural technology. But in the end, I went back to study town planning. Now I not only see the design progress from start to finish, but also get involved with other important factors like identifying sites, viability and community engagement. I get to balance competing interests, problem solve and, at the end of it all, get the result with planning permission (fingers crossed!).

I’m really happy with my career and excited for what’s around the corner so it’s safe to say that it’s a good fit for me.

Usamah Iqbal