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News & opinion

12 JUN 2018

RICS Young Surveyor of the Year: planning for an exceptional career

Jonathan Manns has achieved more by his early-30s than most of us could hope to accomplish in a lifetime. His passion for urban planning, marked by accomplishments in professional and public life, have resulted in impactful leadership and sustained achievement.

This made him not only the winner of the Land (Rural and Urban) category but also overall winner of RICS Matrics Young Surveyor of the Year 2017. Here he describes what motivates him.

Changing the world

I’m passionate about social mobility and the environment. I’m also a firm believer that any development should strive to achieve the best deliverable outcomes at all times. Getting the right result is about understanding context, working creatively and focussing on the art of the possible. Changing the world isn’t a trite cliché but something we do in small measures every day.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned over my career it’s the importance of liking what you do and being motivated by it. Likewise, that personal success is reliant on good teamwork. Motivating others is like rocket-fuel in a group scenario – when passions are shared and there’s a clear direction the results are quickly apparent.

Support for regeneration

Regeneration might seem daunting and complex but there’s an opportunity in every challenge. The trick is to never downplay the cards you start with. I’ve worked with Long Live Southbank in their campaign to preserve and enhance the skateable undercroft beneath the Southbank Centre since 2014. LLSB shows clearly the influence that a community can have; in that case a group led by skaters and artists who care about an historically neglected space have turned the tables from back-footed defence to forward-footed expansion and refurbishment.

From a business perspective, I launched a ‘virtual’ Regeneration team at Colliers in 2015 to unlock sites requiring multi-disciplinary solutions. This bought planning, development and management consultancy advice to projects that require specialist support. We worked on projects across England, tailoring teams and approaches to the specific circumstances of each site.

The take-home is that having a silo mentality doesn’t work. Collaboration is a hugely important part of innovation, problem-solving and consensus building.

Making planning more relevant, more accessible

Anybody who’s tried getting to grips with planning will realise that it needs demystifying. If we are genuine in our desire for people to get involved, and to harness their enthusiasm, we simply must make it accessible. This doesn’t just mean to those who are retired and with time on their hands, but people who are at work, with young families, or maybe only have a passing interest.

In 2013 I joined a small group of enthusiasts who worked to save The London Society, a charity established in 1912 to provide a forum for discussion and debate about the future of the capital city, preserving the best of the past and encouraging the best of the present for the future. We re-launched the charity and it’s grown from strength-to-strength with a regular programme of debates, visits, talks, discussions, tours, campaigns and courses with which thousands of people now engage each year.

In 2014 I conceived, funded and edited a book to celebrate planning in the UK. Called Kaleidoscope City, it featured contributions from Sir Peter Hall, Richard Rogers and Richard Florida amongst others. I wanted to tackle the big and exciting questions without the technical jargon and dull formatting that can make planning seem impenetrable. To extend its reach, it was made freely available in e-reader formats and quickly became one of the ‘Top 100’ Kindle books on Amazon. With several million downloads, it’s possibly one of the most read urban planning books in history!

In 2015, recognising the need for an impartial cross-party approach to built environment issues in the capital, I established the All Party Parliamentary Group for London’s Planning and Built Environment. It’s become one of the best attended APPG's, has published reports and heard evidence on matters from Green Belt to the implications of the Grenfell Tower fire. 

To raise awareness of London’s housing crisis I launched the ‘House Me London’ campaign in 2017. It began as a social media campaign promoted through a ‘pass-it-on-pamphlet’ inspired by the Book Crossing movement. I left 5,000 free, shareable hard copies across London, encouraging people to engage in the discussion using the Twitter #HOUSEMELONDON. The pamphlets still pop-up now and then, whilst the campaign has grown to focus on public events and engaging politicians.

A world of opportunities

I’m proud to be a surveyor. It’s a profession that offers fantastic opportunities to learn and to meet people. I’ve travelled the world speaking and writing for industry, academic and public audiences. From Oxford, Cambridge and LSE I’ve jetted-off to Beijing and New York, giving advice to not-for-profits and governments from China to Chile and Dublin to Delft. I’ve found myself as expert advisor to everyone from Grand Designs to the European Union. If you have a doubt, park it. If you have an opportunity, take it. If you have a view, share it.

The benefits of chartership shouldn’t be overlooked and the door doesn’t close when you’re Assessment of Professional Competence (APC) is complete – it opens. The moment of chartership is when surveying becomes your profession, over which you have collective ownership, to mould and direct. I’ve provided mentoring support to more than 50 surveyors as they work their way through the APC and taught on several courses, not least as Honorary Senior Lecturer at UCL. Working with others is a huge source of inspiration, not necessarily because of what they have done but because of the extent to which it helps us understand how we might fulfil our own potential.

I am pleased to have won the RICS Matrics Young Surveyor of the Year Award. The awards not only celebrate success but reveal the wealth of talent, energy and enthusiasm within the profession – something which we all should promote, encourage and nurture at every opportunity.