Orla discusses what it’s like to work in Planning. Orla graduated with a Masters of Regional and Urban Planning (MRUP) from UCD and joined MKO in 2020 as an Intern.
What inspired you to pursue a career in Planning?
I completed an undergraduate degree in sociology and geography. While I enjoyed aspects of physical geography I always gravitated towards human geography. I was interested in how we plan our cities to have such a massive social impact on people’s lives, which linked well to my sociology modules.
Once I began my Master’s degree at UCD in Urban and Regional Planning I quickly noticed that I was enjoying the project management and design-based modules rather than forward planning, which led to my decision to pursue a career in the private sector. I was interested in being involved in the shaping of a project from the beginning and was interested in the project management aspect.
Can you describe your typical working day as a Project Planner?
I typically start the day by catching up on any tasks I may have received from clients and MKO team members and will note my priorities for the day. I usually have a design team meeting scheduled in the mid-morning where I meet with clients along with a multidisciplinary team of architects, civil engineers, landscape architects, and electrical consultants. I usually reserve my afternoons to work on reports and review documents my team members have sent me for review.
I frequently attend online training events that are either completed internally through MKO or will always make time to attend webinars that the Irish Planning Institute (IPI) or the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) hold. I try to factor in an hour of my time on Friday afternoon towards my learning and development, so during this time I will read a set of guidelines that I want to brush up on, and at the moment in particular I am working my way through the new Planning and Development Bill.
On weeks that I have a planning application due to be lodged to a local authority I do a lot of admin tasks and project management. I keep on top of the design team on a project to ensure that they issue their inputs including reports and planning drawings for our team to review and to compile with the application pack. I arrange to have statutory notices published, which involves erecting site notices and typically heading out to a field with a hammer and a wooden stake! When we are successful in receiving a grant of permission on a project I relay this news to the company during our Monday morning meeting and I ring the gong which is always a nice positive start to the week.
What types of projects are you currently working on?
I predominantly work on residential, educational and tourism projects. At the moment I am focusing on an application for a Large-Scale Residential Development for 200+ housing units. We are at the lodgement stage of this application so I spend a lot of time organising our project folders to populate all documents that will accompany the application, and am reviewing all of these documents to ensure they are of an appropriate standard.
This week I prepared an advice note for a client on a complex legal matter regarding the extension of time of a Strategic Housing Development. This required a thorough review of the current planning legislation on extension of duration, which is often regarded as a fairly complex section of the Planning and Development Act. I additionally had to consider the changes to this process that will be introduced in the forthcoming Planning and Development Bill. Although it can be challenging, I enjoy working on projects that require a lot of legislation review as it always keeps your problem-solving skills sharp!
How would you describe the culture at MKO?
The culture at MKO is very sociable and friendly. On my team specifically, we put a lot of focus on growth and development which I enjoy, as there is a culture in which everyone is learning and everyone is happy to help each other and to share their knowledge. This supportive nature amongst teams is very important at times of urgency, when there is a lot of pressure to get tasks done, the support helps to keep a level mind. I feel that there is a key aim amongst the people at MKO that everyone comes into work feeling content and can go home feeling accomplished at the end of the day.
What do you enjoy most about your role at MKO?
While I am office-based about 90% of the time I enjoy the few days that I get out of the office, which usually involves erecting site notices or going on a site visit. Since being promoted to Project Planner, I also really enjoy getting to work with a team of graduate planners who assist me with my work. It is very fulfilling to see how they are progressing in their career and how they are improving their knowledge and skills through working with MKO.
What advice do you have for someone aspiring to pursue a career in Planning with MKO?
I would advise anyone thinking about a career in planning to go for it – it is a very exciting time to be in planning at the moment, given the massive changes happening over the last few months. It is a very fulfilling job as you can see the results of your work right in front of you – initially in the form of a grant of permission and eventually you get to see the development constructed which is very surreal. It is also a very fulfilling job as there is a great opportunity to progress your career, particularly at MKO. No two days are the same in the life of a planner and the ever-changing rules and legislation always keep you on your toes.