Scarborough seeks better involvement in Planning
Scarborough’s planning department wants people to help improve its Statement of Community Involvement – last revised in 2013. This is really positive. More Councils should bring these important documents up to date.
Penny Norton, in her seminal book, ‘Public Consultation and Community Involvement in Planning’ describes them as ‘the most significant innovation’ in the 2004 Planning Act…and adds that ‘they may be the most enduring of its entire content.’ Every planning authority has one and what they say can tell you much about the willingness of a Council to listen.
Scarborough is quite open about its motive. It has just finished adopting its Local Plan, and the Planning Inspector gave a thumbs-up to its process. However – to quote the Council: –
“The Inspector suggested … that consideration be given to the heartfelt concerns of some residents about the consultation/public involvement process, and to keeping the SCI under review.”
No doubt readers can read between the lines.
The Council, to its credit, has responded and challenged residents to come up with better ways of involvement. They already use the full range of methods that most public bodies rely on, so it will be interesting to see if anything new or innovative emerges. Focus Groups and the different deliberative events are a possibility.
So, we looked at the SCI. An Appendix provides detailed definitions for 36 different items of terminology – and that fact alone may persuade some people that the jargon needs to go.
We also looked at its definition of consultation. This is what it says:-
“Consultation is a one-way process between the Council and its customers. Consultation asks people to express views by responding to communications in whatever form (electronic, face-to-face, telephone, postal). It does not involve any two-way process.”
This definition differs dramatically from the Institute’s, which is adopted by many, focusing on a dialogue rather than a “one-way process.” :-
“Consultation is the dynamic process of dialogue between individuals or groups, based upon a genuine exchange of views, with the objective of influencing decisions, policies or programmes of action” – tCI
Consultation is there for the purpose of influencing a policy, a decision or a programme of action. A dialogue may be created by consultors going back to consultees to clarify what they said and understand what they mean, whilst observing the essential legal principles of being at a formative stage and timely. It places the onus on providing enough information for consultees to give the matter ‘intelligent consideration’ and requires consultors to provide feedback to those who participated, giving the substance of what they said, ‘conscientious consideration.’
One wonders if Scarborough’s failure to ensure the need for a two-way exchange of views may well have been at the heart of the Planning Inspector’s recommendation.
The dialogue methods are important, but it is the purpose for which they are used and the approach of the consultor organisation towards listening to what people are telling you that is critical.
If the Council adopted the Institute’s definition of consultation and followed the Consultation Charter principles, they would square the circle of improving their consultation/public involvement process.
If you wish to learn more about the Charter principles, the Institute will be offering training as online modules via our website, by the end of February.
The link to the article can be found here.
Rhion Jones & Rebecca Wright.