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The Government has previously sought to restart the housing market by announcing a raft of further changes to support planning decision making. We are now beginning to have a clearer idea of how local authorities are maintaining decision making, with a number successfully holding virtual committee meetings or expanding their systems of officer delegation.

With research showing that housing delivery may fall by a third this year, and the impact on the five year land supply of local authorities; it is critical to press ahead.

REIGATE & BANSTEAD’S VIRTUAL ENGAGEMENT

During my time as a local councillor and Leader of the Conservative Group of Reigate and Banstead BC, I was always reassured at the level of public participation in the planning process. I attended numerous area planning meetings, where councillors would raise comments from their constituents with officers on active applications, before they were determined by delegated powers or taken to planning committee – where public participation was also high.

One of the planning officers I worked frequently with, Andrew Benson, is now Head of Planning at the council; and I was pleased to see my old local authority fully embrace the move to virtual meetings, having already held two planning committee meetings and approving large complex developments.

I got in touch with Andrew recently to ask him how things went as I know many local authorities are looking to share best practice.

Making it happen

In terms of software, Andrew and the team have opted for Cisco Webex as it allows Members to easily record their votes and ask questions, as well as allowing them to screen share and utilise drone footage from an applicant.  I know that many local authorities are wary of using Zoom due to security issues although note that it is being used for virtual PMQs.

Generating genuine engagement

Importantly, members of the public were still able to register as speakers at the meeting and share their views, which I know has been an issue raised at other local authorities who haven’t yet been able to recreate the same level of engagement as Reigate.

Using the right approach

Another key consideration is transparency and ensuring that communities can still observe meetings. Whilst many people can view recordings online, having an option for vulnerable groups with poor internet connection to simply dial-in with their phone to meetings is important.

MHCLG’s updated advice, released yesterday (13th May), continues to encourage local planning authorities to use technology to ensure that discussions and consultations can continue whilst social distancing.

There are tried and tested measures of using digital engagement, alongside the traditional methods of consultation and engagement for those not wanting to use online routes, which we know work to engage a wider demographic of stakeholders.

If you want to find out more about what we are currently doing, do get in touch with us here or visit our dedicated page on our website.