Hunts planner to be national president

HUNTINGDONSHIRE may no longer have the Prime Minister – instead, its influence in Whitehall will be enhanced by having the National President.

The district council’s joint managing director, Malcolm Sharp, will next month take over as national president of the Planning Officers’ Society, a position that will give him direct access to senior Whitehall officials to the advantage of Huntingdonshire, he told The Hunts Post.

The man who got into planning by virtue of a holiday job as Father Christmas at Harrods during his geography course at London University came to Huntingdonshire as head of planning in 1998.

“When I left university, I was one of 120 applicants for a planning trainee job with Hackney – but I was the only 21-year-old Father Christmas, so I got the chance,” he said.

“When I got married, we could no longer afford to live in London, so I went to Northampton New Town Corporation. Then I saw a job in Nottingham, which was my home town, and in due course came here from there – even though my boss couldn’t understand why I thought Huntingdonshire would be interesting.”

The 62-year-old Methodist lay preacher believes most planners are unfairly blamed by the Government for putting obstacles in the way of development.

“Nationally, planners have been an easy target in terms of delaying projects and having a bad effect on the economy. My view is that planners are enablers of development, not brakes on it in the vast majority of cases.”

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That is presumably why recent changes in planning law will have little effect in Huntingdonshire, where growth is seen as key to the future prosperity of the area, and there has been a presumption in favour of sustainable development for many years.

“Good planners and good local planning authorities will make things happen whatever the system,” he said. “As an example, our Oxmoor Action Plan was never a statutory document, but working with the community got things done – and fast.”

He is currently leading on the delivery of a town centre redevelopment scheme for Huntingdon and the introduction of the community infrastructure levy, which will widen the scope of developer contributions to infrastructure.

He took a leading role in the establishment of the Great Fen, a major landscape scale restoration project in the north of the district, 2010 winner of the RTPI Silver Jubilee Cup, and in the establishment of the Greater Peterborough and Greater Cambridge Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP).

He championed and helped secure Alconbury Airfield as one of the new enterprise zones and is now working with colleagues from the LEP, developers Urban and Civic and the county council to make it a reality.

Of the presidency he said: “While I hope my peers have asked me to do this because of my experience etc, I also do very much think it is also a reflection of the high regard Huntingdonshire is held nationally in planning circles for being an exemplar authority.

“This is a tribute not just to the talented, enthusiastic and hard-working planning staff we have but also the way the council’s political leadership has been willing to back growth to meet the needs of the district and been fully behind some imaginative and ground-breaking schemes proposals and policies.

Surprisingly for a Nottingham Forest season ticket holder and former rugby player, Mr Sharp is also a bass guitarist in his spare time. He and his wife Anne, who works for the children’s court service Cafcass, live in Brampton and have three children. Their eighth grandchild is expected soon.