Cabe veteran Joanna Averley will be first woman in the job when she starts in September

Former Cabe director Joanna Averley has been named as the government’s new chief planner, with a salary of around £110,000.

Resize_Joanna Averley Portrait_Credit Joanna Averley

Source: Joanna Averley

Joanna Averley

She will take up the role in early September, filling the shoes of Steve Quartermain who retired from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) at the start of the coronavirus pandemic after 12 years and an OBE.

Averley, who was deputy chief executive of Cabe and also design director at the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA), is the first woman to hold the post which is considered the figurehead of the profession.

A key focus of her role will be supporting the MHCLG’s stated aim of delivering 300,000 new homes a year by the mid-2020s. Specifically this will include leading on the development of design policy advice and implementation of the government’s response to the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission. Averley will also be expected to oversee planning advice around the department’s policy and case work.

The job spec added: “This role calls for technical proficiency, wise judgement, political acumen and inspiring, trusted professional leadership credentials…

“This is an exciting and hugely influential professional leadership role, which works in close partnership with our director of planning and reports to our director general of housing, planning and building safety.”

Averley arrives in Whitehall from High Speed 2 where she spent two years as head of urban design and integration. Before that she worked for Transport for London, leading on the housing and planning programme for Crossrail 2.

While at Cabe, where she was also director of design and planning advice, she was seconded to the ODA where she oversaw procurement, design review and enabling as the agency commissioned buildings for the 2012 Olympics.

It was under her guidance that the London Games were less about statement architecture and more about urban and landscape design with Averley insisting it was essential the project set the tone as an anchor for subsequent development in the Thames Gateway.

Rather than following Beijing’s lead with striking venues, Averley said the project would be used to boost the profile of urban design among the public.

“I am interested in the panoply of issues and not just the big iconic buildings,” she said in an interview in 2005.

The Games and their built legacy – some of it still being built eight years later – were widely viewed as successful by urbanists.

Averley’s time at Cabe included the last recession and ultimately its folding into the Design Council during the coalition government’s “bonfire of the quangos” at the start of 2011. Building Design reported in 2010 that her salary had almost doubled to £100,000 in three years. The chief planner job was advertised with a salary of around £110,000. When her predecessor appointed former PRP chief Andy von Bradsky as the government’s head of architecture – a more junior role – it came with a salary of £60,000, more than most architects earn in private practice.

Averley has worked as a town planner for nearly 30 years in and with local and central government and its agencies, as well as in the private and third sectors. She was also chief executive of the Centre for Cities think tank.

MHCLG said her experience included planning policy, major projects, design quality in the built and natural environment, complex planning applications, urban design and masterplanning, economic development and regeneration.

Averley said: “We have many challenges to address over the coming months and years – how we meet the needs of our communities in delivering good quality homes and neighbourhoods, underpinning the economy and jobs, delivering sustainable patterns of growth, addressing the climate crisis and adapting to the realities of the pandemic and its consequences.

>> Also read: Government appoints Andy von Bradsky as head of architecture

>> Also read: London 2012 Olympic Park


“Planning and planners have a vital role to play – a creative, proactive approach and long-term thinking will be at the heart of bringing positive change for all.

“I greatly look forward to taking up the role of chief planner and working with colleagues across the built environment professions to address these challenges and opportunities.”

In his final briefing to the profession in March, Quartermain told planners to do all they could to keep the system going through lockdown and championed the move to online meetings. He signed off: “Be practical, be pragmatic and let’s plan for the recovery.”

February’s £110k job advertisement

The role of the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) is to create great places to live and work, and to give more power to local people to shape what happens in their area.

A key task is to transform the housing market to deliver 300,000 net additional homes a year on average by the mid-2020s. We sponsor 12 arms-length bodies to deliver our agenda on the ground and control directly annual budgets of over £10bn in capital spend and £2bn on resource programme We also have wider oversight of the local government system, which has core spending power of over £49bn.  

We are now looking for a new Chief Planner to lead the planning profession in Government and provide assurance on the planning advice and guidance across our demanding portfolio of planning policy and case work. This is an exciting and hugely influential professional leadership role, which works in close partnership with our Director of Planning and reports to our DG, Housing, Planning and Building Safety.

The successful candidate will be at least a Chartered Member of the Royal Town Planning Institute or equivalent and have senior planning experience across the range of planning work. As the most senior planner in Government, you will lead the planning case-work function, and must be confident providing robust, credible and impartial advice on high-profile, contentious and complex cases to the most senior levels of Government. Resilient under scrutiny, you will also lead engagement with the planning profession and wider development community nationally and help to communicate Government planning policy.

As a member of the Departmental Leadership Team, we will also look to you to contribute to the strategic agenda of the Department. This will include leading on development of the Department’s design policy advice and implementation of the Government’s response to the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission.

This role calls for technical proficiency, wise judgement, political acumen and inspiring, trusted professional leadership credentials. If you think you fit the bill, we would like to hear from you.

Applications from candidates working in any part of the planning profession, whether inside or outside of central or local government, are encouraged.

This is a permanent appointment which will require at least two to three days working in central London, but candidates may be based outside of London for the remainder of the week.  We welcome applications from people wishing to work flexibly, including those willing to job share.

This appointment is regulated by the Civil Service Commission.