Three key thoughts on the Planning White Paper
The deadline for responses to the Planning White Paper consultation passes this week (29 October).
Many organisations with different and competing interests have expressed views online. It will be interesting to see how the initial reaction translates into consultation responses.
Will it survive the Conservative grassroots and backbench rebellion? Is there an appetite for change amidst such wider levels of uncertainty? Can the government sustain another battle?
Whatever happens, change in some form or another is needed.
We have submitted comments to the White Paper consultation, which reflect our experiences of local plan-making and engaging communities over planning matters. Although we won’t go through our answers to every question, here are three important areas which have shaped our response.
Planning impacts and benefits the whole community, depending on your perspective. It shapes the streets we call home. It can determine where you live, work and shop. Through the places it creates, it also shapes how we behave. As such, it has a pivotal role to play in our national recovery.
Yet, too often the planning process is inaccessible for too many people. In one example that highlights this, we partnered with YouGov after the consultation launched to better understand public awareness of local plans and what influences their engagement in them. Amongst the many findings, our research suggested only a fraction of young adults have knowingly engaged in local plan consultations.
This engagement gap should concern local authorities and developers. To create better outcomes, we need input from a more representative and wider group of respondents, including younger people. An inclusive process ensures planners and politicians hear more from these groups, who are often most affected by the planning process.
To achieve this, Local Plan and planning application consultations must facilitate conversations in areas beyond the local village hall. Digital engagement can be part of the answer here, alongside creative story-telling and genuine dialogue. Local authorities should also welcome tiers of feedback rather than just a written statement. Polls, interactive maps and online webinars can all be used to good effect to feed into the process.
#2 Make it clear and concise
“If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.”
Complex news stories are now consumed in bite sized chunks, not 32-page pdfs. Social media is used by around three quarters of adults according to Ofcom’s latest research. Yet, as the government recognises, the planning process remains lengthy, detailed and unclear to many.
To make the planning process fit for a digital age, local authorities need to ensure their documents reflect user experiences. Engaging and accessible language which clearly communicates and inspires feedback in a variety of ways and formats is essential here.
#3 Trust matters
Across the Social team, we’ve conducted consultations across more than 160 local authority areas, spanning from Cornwall to Aberdeen, and west Wales to Cambridge.
Judging by the number of times I’ve heard someone claimed that a planning application or Local Plan was ‘a stitch-up’ or a ‘done deal’, the process is mistrusted by too many people. We believe time and avenues should always be given so stakeholders can influence the process and feel their views have been properly considered.
So, whilst decision-making should be faster, it cannot be rushed and must take public views into account.
Planning for the future
Whatever happens to the White Paper next, taking these steps will help to make the planning process more inclusive and easier to understand. That, in the end, will lead to better outcomes. Which is surely the aim of this exercise.
If you’d like to find out more about our research into local planning, feel free to get in touch with us.