The planning reforms seek to place local communities at the heart of the planning system, but will this make the case for development even more challenging?
Civic stewardship and engagement with communities will be increasingly important for developers and house builders especially. There will be a greater responsibility to demonstrate the need for new development to communities and answer the perpetual question, "Why here?". This will require a collaborative master-planning journey, not just the “here is our design, do you have any comments?” but a meaningful step change in engagement.
However, both planning in general and the local plan process must take a step back and support community education in this process, particularly in terms of access to information in a clear and understandable format.
A recent example for me personally, was when I was asked to support a local community group objecting to a new 200-unit housing scheme close to where I live. Professionally, I could not support the objection; the site was already allocated in the adopted local plan, and to my mind, it was actually in the right place. Some of the local community group did not realise that their real opportunity for consultation as part of the local plan process had already passed. The local plan had followed due process, but consultation clearly had not effectively engaged with all interested parties. What I advised is that they work positively with the developer and the local council to ensure the development delivered what they wanted to see, such as improved cycle connections, walking routes, open space, and a reduction in parking provision.
If the planning reforms are to be taken forward and communities are thrust into a prime stakeholder role, then as professionals we really must better support the understanding and education of the planning process, from the earliest stages (local plans) through to development control, to support the empowerment of communities and ensure good development is not stalled.