Frances Summers



working in planning


Woman of Influence

2021 Award


South West Young Planner of the Year

2021 Award


Masters Degree

in Urban and Rural Planning

I accidentally stumbled across planning at the age of 32.

Where do you work?

I am a Senior Planning Policy Officer at Dorset Council. I work from home, where my noisy dogs keep my feet warm.

Route into planning

Tell us about your route into planning

I am originally from the North East and have a strong Northumbrian accent. I’ve two teenagers, 16 and 14, two cocker spaniels and a cat. I accidentally stumbled across planning at the age of 32. I know, I’m giving away my age here. But I want people to know that you can start a new career at any age.

My family and I moved to the South Coast of England in 2015. The first thing we did was take our dogs for a walk down to Lulworth Cove and instantly fell in love with Dorset.

I had a degree in Literature and a Higher Diploma in Natural Sciences with Earth Sciences. Until I was 32, I mainly worked in schools as a teaching assistant or cover supervisor. My ambition was to become a teacher when my children were older.

What happened next?

Once we reached Dorset, I took a temporary maternity cover job at the Local Council planning department while I waited for a teaching course to begin. It’s safe to say I never looked back. I finally found something I enjoyed in a place I loved living.

My employer noticed my enthusiasm and passion for the job and encouraged me to complete a Masters Degree in Urban and Rural Planning. I soon started at UWE. Because my husband regularly works away and my children were still too young to leave alone, I decided to complete the Masters via Distance Learning. I became student representative and eventually department representative. I was part of a great cohort of students who all still contact one another despite having never met in person!

Since then, I’ve given evidence at Local Plan hearings, I’ve helped develop two local plans and two neighbourhood plans. Needless to say, I’ve learned a lot.

Winning awards

An award winning career

I was selected as a Woman of Influence 2021 due to my work on an accessible and interactive consultation for the Dorset Council Local Plan and in recognition of helping new colleagues gain confidence. This accolade gave me the confidence to nominate myself as Vice Chair for the Dorset Young Planners. It's also made me realise how important recognition is as a planner as I also feel more confident asking questions and voicing my opinion.

I went on to win South West Young Planner of the Year 2021. The judges said I had 'great confidence' an attribute I always struggle to attain. I can only put this down to my enthusiasm for the career supported and encouraged by fantastic colleagues and managers.

Since the awards, I have become the Hon. Secretary of the South West Regional Management Board. I hope to continue involvement with the RTPI to learn more about the profession.

How does your role involve helping the public?

  • I help write the local plan where my main passion is social equality and climate change. I’m very keen to know what our society needs and wants. To this end, I work closely with Town and Parish Councils, I love doing roadshows, I write and record podcasts and webinars and all of this is to help people understand planning.
  • I also lead on providing work experience in planning which allows me to go to schools and talk to students, design and facilitate work experience virtual insight days and manage placements. Through this I can tell people about planning as a career and inspire the next generation of planners.

Helping my community

Tell us about any work you’ve done to help your local community

I once led on a Neighbourhood Plan through to it being 'made'. During the examination, the inspector asked us to resolve conflict relating to a proposed Suitable Alternative Natural Greenspace (SANG). The SANG was needed to mitigate impacts on the nearby heath due to proposed housing allocations. The landowner was concerned about providing mitigation for sites outside of their control.

I drew up a Memorandum of Understanding between the Council, the landowners, Natural England and the Parish Council. This process helped me negotiate the best for everyone involved.

Your spare time

What do you do when you are not planning?

I love making lego (I have tons of the stuff), I like walking the dogs and playing the piano.