Town planning runs strong in the veins of this Clayton Utz partner

Wendy Evans talks winning in High Court, the changing workforce

Town planning runs strong in the veins of this Clayton Utz partner
Wendy Evans

Wendy Evans has always been passionate about town planning, whether it is as a town planner or as a lawyer. Her aim in her legal career, she says, is to use her legal experience to shape better planning outcomes.

In this interview, Evans talks what she finds most exciting about being a town planning law specialist, short-sighted decisions, and the kind of city she wants to live in.

 What inspired you to be a town planner, and can you tell us more about the event that precipitated your shift to law?

I was a town planner before I became a lawyer, so it was an entirely logical extension for me to specialise in this area. Excellence in town planning outcomes still runs strong in my veins. As a town planning lawyer, I can help deliver that excellence for places and communities when the pathway to sustainable outcomes is unclear or challenging.

My first job as a town planner was at Delfin (before it was Lend Lease Communities), where I was involved as part of a full line project team, in delivering master planned communities. I believed in the process and the outcomes we were achieving, and as a town planner I saw that my ability to influence good outcomes would be limited in a litigation context to the role of an impartial witness. I gave expert evidence twice as a town planner, and thoroughly enjoyed it. But I firmly knew then that my calling was to transition to the legal team - so that I could use my training and lived experience to further support the achievement of better planning outcomes.

What is the most exciting thing about being a specialist in town planning law?

Everyone who knows me, would attest to me finding everything super exciting. How could it not be? I'm on an awareness campaign at the moment. If you don't know what planning/infrastructure/environmental/land use law is, just look out the window (hopefully it’s a decent enough view). What I do is everything you see out of an ordinary window: how buildings and facilities are used and where they are located, what they look like, how they fit into the streetscape, how our places and spaces are connected, where the green is and what type of green it is, public transport, clean waterways and the sky, our agricultural land and how our finite resources are accessed and applied, the way we are transitioning to other energy sources. The list goes on. All of this is planning related and none of it is boring!

What are the most common issues you run into in your practice?

Short-sighted decisions and unnecessary complication, in equal measure.

What has been your proudest accomplishment in your career?

I genuinely love my job. If I reflect on a moment of individual joy throughout my career: appearing before the High Court instructing two of my most cherished counsel colleagues and walking out with a ruling in our client's favour was definitely a high.

What are the challenges you expect in your practice, and in the business of law in general, going forward? What challenges are particularly pressing in the country’s legal industry?

The workforce is changing. New entrants to this profession want to work differently. Their expectations are markedly different from what their leadership teams experienced when they were in comparable positions. Navigating this respectfully is going to be a challenge.

What are you looking forward to the most in the coming year?

I have an opportunity at the moment to help re-set the benchmark for what constitutes a leading standard for local planning instruments in Queensland. I feel enormously honoured to have this opportunity and am tremendously looking forward to standing with my client in this space. Hopefully local and state government is ready to level up!

Drawing on your town planning expertise, which fictional town/city/village/realm/kingdom would you most want to live in?

Wouldn't it be fabulous to live in a city where our focus is genuinely on the bigger picture. One where we accept that 'big Australia' is coming (in terms of population growth) and we look at what is needed to accommodate this properly. A city where we make hard decisions now to spend on infrastructure planning and delivery for future prosperity (without fear of potential community backlash). A city where we re-define what the 'great Australian Dream' is in terms of home ownership needing to be a house on a block of land, so that we can ensure food security and the continuation of good quality agricultural land, and simultaneously deliver density without it being considered a stepping stone or lesser form of living.

These are all the things that I work towards daily, as none of this should be aspirational. It needs to be real, now!

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