In May, the Government (Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government) held a consultation on revisions to the National Planning Policy Framework – the headline planning policy document from which all other planning policy stems.
I contributed to the consultation through The Consultation Institute’s response, which commented specifically on the very opaque legislation / guidance surrounding the requirements for consultation in planning and development.
Despite growing concern about public disaffection in the planning system, the guidance contained within the original NPPF was very vague: while developers were encouraged to engage and the benefits are described, there was nothing in law to require developers to consult local people before submitting a planning application.
The revised NPPF has now been published and it is disappointing to see that very little has changed in the requirement to consult.
Engagement is still only ‘encouraged’; one of the few changes being that it has been extended from solely statutory, to both statutory and non-statutory consultees.
However, the list of information requirements that local authorities must make of developers has been reduced from ‘proportionate to the nature and scale of development proposals’ to ‘kept to the minimum needed to make decisions’. To view the exact changes between the two documents, click here.
While the legal requirement for developers to consult remains opaque, the notion that community involvement can benefit planning decisions is unequivocal.
Planning is ultimately about people: whether a local authority-run strategic plan or a private sector-led development proposal, change to the built environment impacts on communities. While it is generally believed that those proposing changes should involve local residents as a courtesy, additionally planners and developers have much to benefit from involving local people.
Consultation provides the opportunity to glean information and ideas from a local community. This might include knowledge of local history and which has the potential to enrich a scheme, otherwise unknown social issues which might have delayed the process, and the needs and aspirations of the community which may be met through the new development. With local input, proposals can be enriched and finely tuned to a specific neighbourhood, creating a unique scheme well suited to its location.
The local community, too, can benefit: community involvement can promote social cohesion, strengthen individual groups within it and create a shared legacy.
Following local dialogue at an early stage and having had proposals either challenged or welcomed, a developer has a greater chance of building local support for a proposed scheme. And a well-run consultation can build a trusting and mutually cooperative relationship between the developer and the community, which can minimise the potential for conflict and thereby remove risk in the process.
While the Government has omitted to encourage greater public participation in planning through the revised NPPF, the potential that policy might ultimately change currently likes with the Raynsford Review, a review of the planning system which has been commissioned by the Town and Country Planning Association which makes community participation a high priority. To find out more about my views on and involvement in this initiative, view my commentary on the Consultation Institute website.