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Changing the Plan: Walker Sime announces Emma Garner as Planning Manager

Emma Garner

Manchester-based construction consultancy Walker Sime has taken a “great leap forward” in its planning capabilities with the appointment of a new planning manager.

If more construction projects are to reach completion on time and on budget, construction needs a different approach to planning management from a new breed of planning manager, says Walker Sime’s Mark Bond. With the appointment of Emma Garner, the company has a planning manager who “sees beyond the construction site”.

Broken into its component parts, a construction project is a massive jigsaw puzzle of tens of thousands of individual tasks that add up to one integrated programme of work for projects ranging from infrastructure, residential and commercial to industrial and power. The programme indicates where a project is at any specific moment in time from pre-concept through to handover to the end-user.

To take a project to successful completion, someone must look at that programme of work and assess whether the timescales and tenders received for each element of the build are realistic. That is the role of the planning (or programme) manager, and it is a role that has never been more important.

“The construction market is hugely competitive,” explained Mark Bond, Director of Quantity Surveying Infrastructure at Manchester-based construction consultancy Walker Sime. “There is a natural tendency for clients to drive down budgets and programme durations in an effort to deliver projects faster and more economically. The problem with this is that, if projects get off on the wrong foot with unrealistic budgets and unachievable programmes, they are destined to fail from the start. “Our philosophy is to scrutinise budgets and the programme so that the project starts with something that is achievable and realistic.”

Walker Sime has taken a “great leap forward” in its capability with the appointment of new planning manager, Emma Garner.

“Emma will review project programmes and, equally importantly, manage change and other programme risks to mitigate delays and minimise any impact on the completion date,” said Mark.

With 20 years’ planning experience, Emma knows the challenges of the current construction environment and clients’ expectations all too well.

“I feel the industry has reached a point where there’s often a disconnect between what the client requires and the corporate standards of the construction consultant,” she said. “There’s a danger we stop listening to our clients’ needs. I wanted to be part of an organisation where those needs were put back where they belong – front and centre of the relationship.”

Selected from a final shortlist of four, Emma’s vison was a key factor in her appointment. “Emma has worked for major organisations and has a really strong ground-up knowledge of how to take programmes from excavation and foundations to build and fit out,” explained Mark. “She’s lived and breathed that experience on-site.

“But what was also really apparent is that Emma sees beyond the construction site. She anticipates the logistics of moving materials through a busy city, or the impact of the current shortage of labour and materials. That feeds into her work which helps to create a realistic programme.
“That can make an enormous difference to a client, because Emma can talk from experience about what is reasonable. By being more realistic from the outset and having honest conversations with clients, we’re making it easier to deliver projects successfully.”

Mark believes Emma will be a valuable addition to the team. “Adding her planning expertise to our multidisciplinary service delivery package in one business, with everyone working together to make a project a success, creates a really compelling proposition for our clients. Emma is a fantastic addition to our team and I’m very excited to be working with her.”

Emma is also keen to use her position to inspire more women into the construction industry. “I have loved my career in construction – I’d recommend it to anyone and everyone,” she explained. “Yet when I initially mentioned doing it 20 years ago, I was told to really think about it—maybe do a degree in geography and see how I felt when I completed it. I feel construction is still undersold in colleges and schools. There’s far more we can do to keep enticing people into this rewarding industry. I’m passionate about ensuring it keeps changing, and that we keep challenging and pushing ourselves.

“There’s no escaping the fact this has been a very male-dominated industry,” added Mark. “Emma’s desire to mentor and bring young people – especially women – into the business was just another example of how she’s setting a new standard for the planning manager role.”

With Emma now in post, she’s clear about the first tasks on her to-do list.

“First I’ll be understanding our current clients’ requirements and building a picture of what good project controls and planning look like for them. I’m looking forward to getting out and meeting Walker Sime’s clients and revisiting some of my existing contacts to see how our approach to planning and scheduling could help with their current or future schemes.”