Marcelo Bielsa. The authentic approach to planning application consultation & thinking outside of the village hall.
We’re living in a world that craves authenticity. Whether it’s authentic street food, immersive urban experiences or brands with a social purpose, we’re all looking for the real deal. And when we’re not looking for authentic experiences, we’re searching for authentic voices.
That’s why the publishing world is turning its attention to the likes of Cash Carraway and Darren McGarvey. It’s why authentic leaders like Greta Thunberg and my own personal hero Marcelo Bielsa are so influential. They’re originals, not copies.
In almost every area of our culture authenticity is now the premium currency. This is being driven by the younger generation’s emphasis on honesty, values and truth. But in my profession, one critical area is failing to keep up. For years it’s been going through the motions and sometimes in the most contrived way possible.
I am of course referring to planning application consultation and public engagement.
Consultation is a vital and statutory part of the planning process. Yet, a lot of what I see is consultation being almost an afterthought.
All too often consultations are the worst kind of tokenistic tick box exercise. Response rates are typically around three per cent of those made aware of an engagement exercise and they are sometimes even lower than this. Meaningless engagement with tiny samples of people is what informs planning decisions on schemes sometimes of national significance.
We can’t let this continue.
At a time when expectations on companies around transparency and ethics are rightly growing, we have to ditch a failed model of community engagement.
If we don’t, trust will continue to collapse. Earlier this year the largest survey of attitudes towards trust in the planning system showed that just two per cent of participants trusted developers to act in an honest way in large scale development.
That’s arguably because we now live in a world where people can smell dishonesty a mile away. The responsibility is on all of us to step up to this challenge and start making planning consultation a meaningful, authentic process.
You can’t expect people to turn up at some drafty civic hall on a cold Tuesday night in November. Consultations have to move beyond the village hall to relevant and convenient locations like pubs, shopping centres and train stations. They have to be honest, inclusive and give people a genuine stake in their community rather than ticking a box. And to reach more people, smart digital engagement must make it easier for people to conveniently share their views.
With both major political parties promising massive spending programmes going into next month’s General Election, efforts to build long-overdue housing and national infrastructure will need the legitimacy of proper consultation. People need to be involved in meaningful conversations around these decisions, not treated as an afterthought. With honest and authentic consultation, it won’t just be infrastructure that gets built but social capital too.
We all want a national programme of infrastructure renewal to succeed – and by regaining trust in the planning process, there’s a much better chance of that happening.
This article was originally written by John Quinton- Barber Founder and Group Chief Executive at Social and Social Place.