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English planning reforms reduces residents’ rights to be consulted!

The Institute has responded to the Government’s consultation on Planning for the Future in England.

It supports a Government commitment that new arrangements for creating local plans will ensure that ‘communities can engage meaningfully in the process of developing them.’ New local plans will be much simpler than currently, and will be easier for residents to understand.  This is because they will have used a zoning system to identify land as being either in a Growth, a Renewal or Protected category. The Institute also supports the aim of making the dialogue more inclusive and using the technology to attract more participation in the plan-making process.

There are, however, significant problems with the current proposals. Once the zoning process is complete , there will be fewer opportunities for residents to be consulted as planning permission for all Growth areas and some Renewal areas will be automatic. This will be bad news for anyone who wishes to object to a particular scheme, made worse by the Government’s suggestion that the right to be heard before a Planning Inspector may disappear.

There is also an attempt to airbrush consultation out of the zoning exercise itself. Instead of consulting the local community before the zoning is finalised, all that current proposals allow is for a short period of public comment – but only after the zoning plan has already been submitted to the Secretary of State.

By avoiding the word ‘consultation’ and using instead the term, ‘public comment’, there is a suggestion that maybe the Government is hoping that, if challenged, Judges would not apply the strict rules known as the Gunning Principles to ensure the process is fair. Clearly it is not anticipating that public views are likely to lead to changes to the local plans, once submitted.

As so many details are still uncertain, and as primary legislation will be needed, the Institute feels that there will be time to address some of the problems that have emerged in recent months.

Rhion Jones, Founder Director of the Institute comments:

“A strong case can be made for improving the planning system, and the Government’s desire to encourage more ‘digital engagement’ is quite right. But removing the right for local people to be consulted is a major change and we doubt if there is public support for such a radical step. Moreover, we understand the Government’s eagerness to secure more housebuilding. It just seems to the Institute that the current plan will so destabilise the planning system in England that the reverse will happen.”

The Institute’s position paper on the Government proposals is available here.

The Institute’s formal response to the consultation is available here.

About the Author

Rhion Jones is considered a leading authority on Public Engagement and Consultation. A founding Director of the Consultation Institute, he is co-author of “The Art of Consultation” (2009) and “The Politics of Consultation” (2018). He has delivered over 500 training courses and Masterclasses and is a prolific writer on the subject, having written over 350 different Topic papers and over 50 full Briefing Papers for the Institute. Since 2003 over 15,000 person-days of training based on courses he invented have been delivered. Rhion is in demand as an entertaining Keynote Speaker and Special Adviser, particularly on the Law of Consultation, and its implications for Government and other Public Bodies. In 2017, he was awarded the ‘Lifetime Achievement Award’.

Read more about Rhion

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