The Raynsford Review:  an opportunity for greater community involvement in planning

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The Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA) is undertaking a considerable review of the English planning system, intended to make it fairer, better resourced and capable of producing quality outcomes.  A key tenent of this is improved community involvement in the planning system.

The task force, which is chaired by former planning minister Nick Raynsford, recently called for responses to its Interim Report and I responded to the consultation on behalf of the Consultation Institute (tCI)’s Planning Working Group.

Public engagement in the planning system is, on the whole, variable, inconsistent and opaque, leading to considerable confusion both among the developers and planning consultants carrying out public consultations on planning applications and also those with whom they consult.  And so we very much welcome the Raynsford Review and the very positive steps that it recommends in reforming planning’s approach to community involvement and consultation.

Despite growing concern about public disaffection in the planning system, there has been no comprehensive review of the relationship between people and planning since 1969 when the ‘Skeffington Report’ was commissioned to assess how the ‘top down’ system inherent in the Town and Country Planning Act might be addressed and public participation increased.  But despite its positive reception, few of the report’s recommendations were put into practice – apparently because they were too vague and intangible.

More recently the Coalition Government sought to use Localism to substantially increase the UK’s housing stock based on the belief that local involvement would deliver greater consensus.  The Localism Bill made some significant headway and draft legislation suggested that consultation would be made compulsory in most cases.  But again this did not materialise:  the resultant Act failed to legislate for the requirement to consult on planning applications in England and Scotland except in the case of planning applications for wind turbines.

Almost half a century after Skeffington’s proposals, the Raynsford Review represents a real opportunity to formalise the role of consultation in planning. In responding to the Interim Report on behalf of tCI, I supported its nine key propositions:

  1. Planning in the public interest
  2. Planning with a purpose
  3. A powerful, people-centred planning system
  4. A new covenant for community participation
  5. A new commitment to meeting people’s basic needs
  6. Simplified planning law
  7. Alignment between the agencies of English planning
  8. A fairer way to share land values
  9. A new kind of creative and visionary planner

Specifically, I have offered for the Institute’s support for the TCPA though:

  • Clarifying the purpose and role of consultation by working with the TCPA on definitions of consultation and participation and helping to determine the circumstances in which each should be used (given the legal associations with consultation); advising on the wording the new covenant for community participation, the development of a genuine participative democratic model and a possible code for consultation in planning.
  • Providing advice to TCPA members on how to make consultation efficient and meaningful without being excessive.
  • Making suggestions on how a new professional culture and skills set directed at engaging communities can be delivered through tCI services including quality assurance, professional accreditations and CPD.
  • Providing advice on how best to empower people to become more involved in planning and on overcoming the barriers to taking part in consultation.

We hope that tCI and the TCPA can work together effectively in the future, and look forward to both the publication of the Raynsford Review this autumn and our ongoing work in raising standards of consultation in planning.

In the meantime, my article in the next edition of the TCPA journal provides advice on efficient and meaningful consultation and will be available on this website following publication.