In 1976, almost half of architects practiced in the public sector; today the figure is less than one per cent, and local authorities are sorely lacking in-house design capacity at a time when they are increasingly required to take the lead in the development of new housing and other critical urban infrastructure. This skills gap is what Public Practice, a new non-profit social enterprise, has been established to address.
Described by founding chief executive Finn Williams as being “like ‘Teach First’ for planning”, Public Practice aims to match built environment professionals (architects, but also planners, regeneration experts and even data scientists) with local authority planning departments for one-year placements in strategic roles.
“Good public planning shapes the built environment for the public good”, says Williams. “But the status of planning feels like it has reached its lowest ebb at a time when it is needed the most. We hope Public Practice can help transform perceptions of the profession, and find a new purpose in public planning.”
Participating ‘associates’, as they are known, are expected to have at least three years’ post-qualification experience. They will receive a salary from the local authority, to which they will dedicate 90 per cent of their time. The remainder will be spent on collective research projects, coordinated by Public Practice, whose fruits will be shared to improve planning knowledge across the public sector.
The operating costs of the organisation are met by a variety of supporters from both the public and private sectors. Their number already includes the Local Government Association and the Future Cities Catapult as well as developers British Land, Berkeley Group and Peabody.
Public Practice is currently recruiting a first cohort of 16 planners, architects and urbanists. Further information is available from its website.