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09/10/2015

We can make planning more accessible to young people

Planning is inseparable from politics, writes Lucy Seymour-Bowdery. Decisions in planning and politics have a significant impact on the success of the places in which we live, work and socialise. Most importantly, they affect our future.

Lucy Seymour-Bowdery, South Coast Young PlannersBut in the general election, 18-24s were almost half as likely to vote as those aged 65+ (43 per cent vs 78 per cent). This is echoed in the lack of younger people involved in planning decisions at a national and local level. Go to your local village hall or council planning committee and you will see the demographic profile is not always representative of its community.

Is there a problem with how we identify with the places around us? I will often be asked by an older family member if I have seen a particular issue reported in the local paper. But unless an issue outside of my working life is trending on Twitter or reported on The Guardian homepage, I’m rarely aware of it.

"The issues themselves, particularly those planning-related, do not speak to most younger people in the right way"

For the young, traditional conversations among neighbours about local issues have been replaced by online campaigns on international issues. I’m sure there are many examples of local developers that have used social media to good effect, but there does seem to be a lack of local engagement with those who may have the most to gain from new development.

It’s not that the young are unable to engage in politics in general – you only have to see how articulate Mhairi Black, the UK’s youngest MP, is among her peers to see that young people can command respect in the political world.

I think it is because the issues themselves, particularly those planning-related, do not speak to most younger people in the right way. In a recent survey of young planners, it has become apparent that even those in the profession can view politics as a frustration to the planning process.

So how can we encourage the younger generation to become involved and engaged in politics and planning? The answer can’t simply be to make planning issues trend on Twitter, though this did happen recently in a high-profile fracking case.

As young planners, we should consider how we would identify with the issues relating to a particular aspect of planning ourselves and what we would do to get our own attention. These may be issues of housing, job creation or the night-time economy. This may involve the use of social media and innovative use of new technology, but it may also involve encouraging and supporting (or even becoming) the Mhairis of this world.

Lucy Seymour-Bowdery is a planner at West Sussex County Council and chair of the South Coast Young Planners Network

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