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Q&A with Sophie, an Associate with Prospero

Hi Sophie, thanks for taking the time to chat. Do you want to start by telling us about your career journey so far? How did you end up working with Prospero?

My background is as a local authority planning officer. After graduating from university, I started my planning career in Newport. From there, I moved to the Welsh Government, where I worked on legislation and policy for development management.

Shortly after moving back into an LPA role, I had my daughter and decided to go self-employed as a planning consultant for a better work/life balance.

After about 18 months self-employed, I heard about Emma and Prospero. Emma and I knew each other from the gym but didn’t know we worked in the same field until a mutual contact put us in touch. Emma asked if I’d be interested in helping Prospero grow by taking on some remote LPA work. At that time, the bulk of Prospero’s work was for private clients. Emma knew about my LPA experience, so it was a perfect match. I now combine my Prospero work with Associate work for another consultancy, and I do some ad-hoc consultancy of my own.

What are your primary responsibilities as an Associate for Prospero?

The work for Prospero is now 100% LPA work, so essentially, I act as an LPA planning officer. I assess, determine, and make recommendations on a full range of planning applications. I deal with the day-to-day contacts with applicants and agents and analyse all the information they submit. I have to balance quite a heavy caseload, so it’s pretty much the same as it would be if I was employed, except there’s more flexibility. I work mainly remotely but, of course, travel as and when required to conduct site visits.

What would you say are the essential skills for a Prospero Associate?

You must be able to manage an extensive caseload. Often, we inherit cases that have been hanging around for a while before we get involved, so you need to be able to analyse and make sense of them quickly. Time management and the ability to prioritise are the essentials as we’re thrown in at the deep end, really. I love the challenge that brings, though!

You also need to be good at negotiating and have a good knowledge of national and local policy. Not all local policies are the same, so you need to get to grips with them quickly and pull out the bits you need to make an accurate recommendation.

What initially attracted you to work with Emma and the Prospero team?

Trust. It’s a big thing, especially if you’re self-employed, to know that the income will be ongoing. I’ve worked with Prospero since January 2021 and have had a regular income ever since.

It’s also about the team. There’s a vast experience to draw on as everyone has worked in different planning areas. It’s good to have knowledgeable people to bounce ideas off or clarify your thinking. It’s a great environment to work in and a lovely company to work for.

What’s been the most rewarding thing about working with Prospero so far?

A big contract I was involved in ended recently. It started with Prospero being given a substantial backlog of cases; some had been in the system for a couple of years. Several of us worked through, getting the caseload down, and by the time we got to the end of the contract, we’d got the backlog pretty much down to zero. There were maybe five or six that we had to hand back due to ongoing discussions. I’d say that because of the numbers involved, that was the most rewarding project to be involved in so far.

The occasional meet-ups with the rest of the Prospero team are good fun too. We live all over the country, so we don’t often get a chance to be together, but it was great to celebrate our tenth anniversary recently. There was a real feeling of camaraderie.

Thanks so much for your time, Sophie. Just one final question: how has the business changed during your time with Prospero?

As I mentioned earlier, when I first started, there was a mix of LPA and private client work, but now we solely support LPAs. There’s a significant demand for our work as many authorities seem to be struggling for planners. We’re hopefully bridging that gap; they know they can come to Prospero, and we’ve got experienced LPA planners ready to go.

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Every member of the Prospero team has extensive first-hand experience in LPAs and understands the daily challenges of life as a planner – and the headaches faced by every Head of Planning.

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