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September 26, 2023

Behind the Scenes of Property Planning: With Planning Director, Duncan Powell

By Will Carter
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Meet Duncan Powell, the Group Planning Director for Acorn Property Group. Duncan's career in planning has spanned over two decades, during which he has witnessed significant changes in the field. In this transcript-based blog, we dive into Duncan's fascinating journey into the world of property planning, his passion for sustainable development, and his insights into the evolving landscape of planning policies in the UK.

The Evolution of Planning

Over the course of his career, Duncan has witnessed substantial changes in the field of planning. One of the most significant shifts has been the devolution of planning to a local level. In the past, planning was often overlooked and deemed unimportant, however, as local communities gained more influence and decision-making power, planning became a subject of interest to everyone. The ability to have a say in development projects, particularly in housing, has led to both positive and challenging outcomes.

Another major factor shaping planning is the drive towards sustainability and the Green agenda. While sustainability was not a primary focus in planning when Duncan began his career, it has now become a central theme. Planners are increasingly expected to incorporate eco-friendly materials and energy-efficient systems into their projects, aligning with evolving policy changes.

Acorn Property Group's Unique Approach

Acorn Property Group sets itself apart in the property development landscape. Unlike many other developers, Acorn boasts an in-house professional team, with Duncan leading the planning efforts. At the same time, they collaborate with separate consultant teams for each application. This approach ensures a deep understanding of the unique challenges faced by each project while leveraging external expertise.

Acorn's commitment to quality and innovation shines through in their planning submissions. Their attention to detail extends to the most minute aspects, such as the direction a door swings, all in the pursuit of creating better, more efficient, and innovative developments.

Planning in the UK has become increasingly complex due to ever-evolving politically-driven decisions, limited funding and rapidly changing planning policies. Local communities now have more influence and interest in development projects. While these challenges may seem daunting, Duncan and the property planning team sees them as opportunities. The need for homes, infrastructure, and amenities is constant, and well-conceived projects will find approval regardless of policy fluctuations.

Acorn Property Group's proactive approach ensures that their projects are adaptable to shifting policies. They aim to not only react but often preempt policy changes to stay ahead of the curve.

Sustainability as a Competitive Edge

Sustainability has become a focal point in planning, with the Green agenda gaining prominence. Acorn Property Group has long recognised the importance of sustainable practices, implementing eco-friendly measures in their developments well before it became a requirement. While the direct influence of sustainability on planning decisions may not be quantifiable, it undoubtedly attracts attention and aligns with the goals of planning authorities to approve efficient, well-designed, and eco-conscious projects.

Community Engagement

Community involvement is at the heart of Acorn's planning process. Before approaching local authorities, they engage with the local community to understand their aspirations and concerns. This proactive approach ensures that projects are developed with community needs in mind, making the approval process smoother


Duncan Powell's extensive experience in property planning, combined with Acorn Property Group's innovative approach underscores the evolving nature of planning in the UK. The shift towards local involvement, sustainability, and community engagement represents a paradigmatic change in the field. 

Despite the complexities and challenges, Acorn Property Group seeks opportunities to create a more sustainable and community-oriented future. The commitment to excellence and forward-thinking planning continues to shape the landscape of property development in the South West, in the hopes of making a positive impact on society as a whole.