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Communities are the key to planning without conflict


Collaboration, not confrontation, is the key to raising the quality of housing and earning the support of communities, says Sarah James.

In early May, I was invited to speak to the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Civic Societies, where I presented Civic Voice’s recent research that responds to the government’s ‘Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission’.

I explained that 71 per cent of respondents to the research believe that we are not building enough homes in England. Civic Voice’s members recognise and accept that we have a housing crisis. This may surprise some who regard civic societies as part of a Nimby movement and one of the reasons why we aren’t building enough homes. This is far from the case.

Over two months, we received 750 responses and had face-to-face discussions with more than 250 people, so it is clear that communities care about the design of new homes and the places that we, as planners, are creating.

Speaking to the housing minister, among others, at the APPG, I also explained that 98 per cent of our members scrutinise planning applications each month. In the main they support, or accept without comment, about 80 per cent of all applications.

It is the 20 per cent of applications that they do respond to that might give the impression that civic societies as Nimbys. This is because we want better quality and our members are not afraid to call out poor-quality development. But it is in this 20 per cent where we see battle lines drawn.

“The current system does not facilitate meaningful participation with communities”

For too many, planning is about confrontation rather than a process of collaboration to achieve the best development. The current system does not facilitate meaningful participation with communities, who are having to engage with increasingly complex applications.

This must change if we are to get anywhere near the government’s annual target of 300,000 homes, as Kit Malthouse MP has repeatedly confirmed. Our members accept that more housing is required. But how we achieve this must change.

Developers, LPAs and communities must work together in a collaborative manner to remove confrontation and increase certainty in the process.

How? Through introducing a pre-application consultation stage into the planning system, requiring developers to engage much earlier with communities, prior to submission – the earlier in the process, the better. This could be brought forward through secondary legislation.

Central government has a vital role too, in valuing planners, and ensuring that the resources, skills and expertise are in place locally to bring forward high-quality development in partnership with communities. Greater collaboration will ensure that communities feel part of the solution to the nation’s housing crisis.

Sarah James MRTPI is policy and membership officer for Civic Voice

Image credit | Shutterstock


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