Planning applications - a new era for public consultation?

Katie Yates, Associate Director of Marketing and Communications at Catesby Estate, looks at the advantages and disadvantages of navigating through the planning system.

As lockdown restrictions began to ease, Boris Johnson delivered his ‘build build build’ speech and revealed the government's plans for economic recovery to deal with the damage caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

He also promised to undertake ‘the most radical reforms to our planning system since the Second World War’. The proposed reforms and the Planning for the Future white paper have subsequently been released, but much remains to be seen if these will have the desired effect on planning and housing delivery.

Unless you work in the industry, are a property developer, councillor, housing enthusiast or local resident, there is a high probability you have never had the pleasure of engaging with the planning system.

Obtaining planning permission is an incredibly complex, risky and costly process to navigate requiring patience, an eye for detail and significant financial backing. Throw into the mix that housing is like marmite, you either love it or hate it, getting a planning application through the system is not for the faint-hearted.

Churchill Home Insurance found that with an average of 2.2 objections to every application, and 870,000 planning applications submitted since the start of 2017, this equates to 80 objections every hour over the past three years. In addition, research by Shelter found people who are opposed to local housing are three times more likely to actively oppose, than supporters are to actively support an application (21% compared to 7%).

Pre-Covid, this was certainly our experience. Often the loudest voice and those most actively involved in public consultation were those against development, believing it would have a negative impact on their community.  Public events were often dominated by individuals who owned their own home, had high disposable incomes and had the time and means to attend in person.

How we interact and air our views has changed for at least the short to medium term, and many of the standard planning public consultation methods have fallen by the wayside due to social distancing restrictions.

We are now all familiar with Teams and Zoom calls which can overcome many of the time and accessibility barriers that prevented people from attending in person consultation events. Social media also offers an opportunity to engage with, and gather opinion from a wider cross section demographic. 

‘The silent majority’ including those looking to take their first steps on the housing ladder, key workers, growing families and people with disabilities looking for a new home, often found it difficult to attend and engage with community consultation. With the increased use of technology, they are now able to actively engage in the process at a time and location that suits them. 

A perceived lack of transparency and openness, and a deficit of communication and engagement breeds resent and cynicism, which often manifests itself in direct opposition both at a political and local level. By listening and responding to the community, and adapting proposals where possible to ensure the community recognises their meaningful input has been recognised, helps to develop trust between all parties.

By embracing technology to change the face of public consultation, maybe, just maybe, we might encourage more people to engage in the planning process and the silent majority might find their voice, ultimately securing more support for new homes.

Could your land have development potential? Find out more about our approach to public consultation and how we can maximise the value of your land.

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