WHEN Michelle Bisson was learning the ropes of becoming a town planner in her 20s, gender equality was absent.
"I understood the town planner being male and making decisions in council," says the 51-year-old, head of the City Of Newcastle's planning department since 2018. "Today is very different and where it's interesting is in my team I have [female] building certifiers, planning investigation officers and engineers, all once quite male-dominated."
Three out of Mrs Bisson's four main teams (development assessments, regulatory, urban planning and business/customer support) are led by women. Almost half of her 105 staff are women.
Mrs Bisson's record as council's Regulatory, Planning and Assessment Manager has been recognised by the Planning Institute of Australia. She recently beat 11 finalists to win its inaugural Helen Proudfoot Women In Planning award, named after the pioneering planner.
Mrs Bisson got her first taste of planning at Maitland council in 2000. Though in administration, a female colleague encouraged her interest. She worked at Sutherland council and studied to gain her qualifications as a town planner while raising three children. She worked at Lake Macquarie council in various positions before starting at City of Newcastle, where her print is on the development of council's community strategic plan (CSP), housing strategy and heritage strategy.
City of Newcastle says it processes about 1000 development applications per year and that processing times have "reduced by almost 40 per cent" after Mrs Bisson's teams introducing various electronic assessments tools.
Mrs Bisson notes a "dramatic rise" in DAs lodged in the past year: "Without travel, people are spending more on homes but industry has great confidence, too."
Strategic planning is not about a short fix, with the CSP's long-term vision including transport, sustainability and liveability.
"It's not just about assessing a DA of a particular site or housing... it's bringing them all in and trying to have those main themes. It's about planning for our children as adults. It's pretty cool."