The Slatter Group team has grown over recent months, so they are taking the opportunity to follow up with their latest recruits and get an insight into their role and experience. Tom Betts recently joined the Design and Planning department as Project Designer/Consultant, bringing with him a wealth of experience in the sector.
How have your first couple of weeks been?
Busy and exciting – turning my attention from project consultancy to pre-construction development has been great fun – with lots of support from new colleagues with much experience and insight.
Tell us a little bit about your background.
I joined the sports construction industry in September 1994, so I have worked within various functions and disciplines and with growing responsibilities for 25+ years. My competency and talent has matured over this time which has helped me to accept and solve more complex project requirements and changing demands. I am very much fascinated by the evolving nature of sports construction and facility design, contracts, development control, and procurement. So, I suppose this curiosity drives me to persistently check, review, adjust and improve my service offering to clients.
Can you tell us a bit about your new role and the team you’ve joined?
My role is Project Designer/Consultant, so I am tasked with developing schemes for clients from conception to build-readiness, then to be installed by our sports construction teams. There are many interconnected processes required to convert an idea to construction-capable plan, so our constant challenge is to simplify this journey for our clients whilst making certain that all checks and balances (quality, cost, time) are achieved along the way.
How has the design and planning industry changed over recent years?
The size of pitches, courts and tracks have changed little over 25 years, but substantial modifications have been seen in respect of surface technology, substrate preparation, and drainage engineering, as well as a host of ancillary items. Testing and compliance activities have evolved during this time too. I think many inventions have been brought forward to address the genuine need to create artificial sports surfaces that perform more faithfully (and reliably similar) to natural turf, whilst other innovations are motivated by a wish for improved efficiency and economy. Very recently, innovations have turned towards sustainable recycling techniques and micro-plastic reduction, both being at the heart of responsible turf manufacturers, like our partners FieldTurf.
Concerning the planning system, I remember in the mid-90s there was some scrutiny that was justly applied to developments seeking planning permission; and this attention has grown over time and now covers wide-ranging proposal aspects (almost every part of a proposal). Fairly so I think, given our better understanding through experience of the potential impacts that a facility could create. It has always been essential to ensure any project is compatible with its surroundings and this assessment should begin at the earliest definition stage, even if this sometimes results in a changed brief and a more realistic option.
With the UK currently in lockdown, how have rules had to adapt?
We have quickly become more conversant with technology to help us continue work remotely. This does have some advantages and reminds us that various types of interaction and meetings can take place very conveniently even if they are virtual. Naturally, our sports construction teams took stock when coronavirus pandemic arrived in the UK, to understand how this affects construction sites and to plan for safe working. Thankfully, we are now largely working to full effect; having organised our works and services, our manufacturing, and our construction activities, acknowledging all necessary safety recommendations and social distancing requirements and in accordance with HM Government recommendations.
What are the biggest challenges for customers in need of design and planning services?
I don’t think this has ever changed – good guidance and leadership to help navigate a project through a variety of perhaps unfamiliar sequential stages with confidence and trust. Clients rightly want honesty, expertise, diligence and not necessarily the cheapest provider, but certainly best value.
What are the biggest challenges for design and planning service providers?
Awareness, intervention, and judgement. We must stay an authority within this specialism to offer our clients the right advice, and take the right actions, at the right time. For sports construction, designing and securing planning permission are dynamic situations; so an intricate knowledge of due process, potential opportunities and pitfalls is essential to properly steer any project and satisfy our clients’ objectives.
What attracted you to your role as Project Designer/Consultant at S&C Slatter?
S&C Slatter is a successful and ambitious company with excellent resources and integrity at its core. I am attracted by these qualities and spotted an opportunity to strengthen our design and planning service. With my consultancy background, I really appreciate clients’ needs and can add this problem-solving attitude to our team.
What advice would you give to any organisations planning a new sports construction project?
- Seek expert advice as early as possible, to set your project on the right course
- Trust professionals who can help you at each project stage
- Choose the best value, not the cheapest cost
- Look for a long-term provider and partner, rather than a short-term fix
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