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15/07/2021

Who decides what’s built in my name?

Words:

Government plans for upfront local plan consultation only risks sidelining communities and deepening consultation inequalities, says Jane Maggs.

In March 2019, I watched fellow Southgate residents voicing anger and frustration about a proposed development close to their homes. Unaware of the developer’s public exhibition, they feared the worst.

Fast-forward a few weeks and the same neighbours are in a workshop organised by Southgate District Civic Voice, discussing what should be built on the site. It was clear that day that our community wanted change and for the site to be redeveloped, but in a way that enhanced our town and complemented its heritage.

What everyone wanted was a voice in the process and the developer to listen and work with us to produce a more imaginative scheme. It would probably have been cheaper in the long run.

Fast-forward again to 2021’s potentially substantial changes to planning legislation. One concern I have is that moving community participation to the local plan stage could exclude vast numbers of residents from key decisions on their neighbourhood.

“The involvement of local people in the process will rely on those with time and resources to discuss plans and aesthetics years in advance”

The involvement of local people will rely on those with time and resources to discuss plans years in advance of anything happening. The town centre site discussed at our workshop is surrounded by housing, next to a conservation area. It could be redeveloped as offices, housing or a mix. It could be zoned in a variety of ways now, but perhaps differently in the future. How will we argue for a change in designation? 

The civic society I belong to will comment and engage. But our borough has a diverse population, from mansion owners to those just able to rent rooms. If you rent and are likely to move on, why engage in a local plan consultation? If you are a new resident, not around during the consultation, how do you have a say in proposed developments?

In reality, many will be excluded from the decision-making process; that doesn’t really seem to be inclusive consultation. Then again, much of this debate is rendered meaningless by permitted development!

Many ideas are being discussed as a result of the planning white paper and that has to be a good thing. But if local people are not part of the whole conversation then the ‘thing’ that makes our town centres what they are could be lost forever.

Jane Maggs is vice-chair of Southgate District Civic Voice and a Planner Woman of Influence 2021

Image credit | Shutterstock

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