In which a new acronym is introduced. For those of you who have had the NIMBY term thrown at you for daring to challenge a development proposal, DIMVI is the term you can now use to respond to those who clearly have their own development interests at heart. Read on!
I have been reading some of the responses to the Planning Bill. Apparently, there have been over 800 sent in from a wide range of people and organisations, so many that they are not all up on the Parliament website yet. Many of the respondents are familiar to us now and you would be surprised not to see some such as the Heads of Planning or local authorities. However, some are less familiar. Pagoda Porter Novelli was one such name, which, when I saw it, made me wonder if the Planning Bill was suddenly of interest to some South Indian Buddhists or whether this was an Italian architectural firm specialising in temple construction. I was curious to read in their opening title that they were community engagement specialists. However, it didn’t take long to discover exactly what kind of community engagement they specialised in; the type that helps “to deliver approval for planning Applications” rather than the empowering people to identify shared aspirations type. I was more and more curious about this submission, especially when it said they had conducted a survey of local authority councillors. Not least because it is very interesting how the results of this survey were discussed, you know, for an organisation specialising in community engagement.
My first question was why focus your survey on councillors and not the general public if your business is public consultation? There was very little discussion of the responses to the questions about barriers to engagement that the company had put into their survey (apparently needlessly replicating the Government’s own Barriers to Engagement research which attracted a huge response, written about in a previous blog post). There was a somewhat cursory set of bullet points summarising the different answers (I hope their consultation exercises contain a little more detailed analysis than this attempt). The survey also apparently had questions regarding ‘third party’ rights of appeal. Apparently 49% of the councillors supported while ‘some’ 28% didn’t and 16% were undecided (there is no mention of the what the remaining 7% thought). Unlike the subject of barriers to engagement, this prompted a somewhat one sided discussion about the negative implications of appeal rights (which rather begs the question why they mentioned the survey results at all, bearing in mind the pro’s outweighed the anti’s). A rather random and unevidenced set of reasons were put forward as to why Equal Rights of Appeal were not a good idea including the default scaremongering classic “it would likely increase the cost of new homes to first time buyers”. (Really, can you show us the analysis on that one please?)
Just as an aside, on the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage, I was looking at some of the arguments used against women gaining voting rights. The opposition to women’s right to vote made some pretty scandalous claims which now seem rather ludicrous but were taken seriously at the time. Examples include that women were child bearers and that would stop them from taking part in political life and that would be a threat to the British Empire and the whole human race. Others declared that giving women suffrage would “cause irreparable damage at great expense to the state.” Rather hyperbolic don’t you think?
Anyway, I needed to check out just who Pagoda were to be making such overstated arguments against equality themselves. It turns out this company are a PR firm, whose community engagement is not necessarily in the community or indeed public interest. In fact, this organisation are not apparently even interested in promoting a plan led system, let alone an inclusive one. This is how they describe one of their consultation projects
“Helensburgh was one of the last towns in Scotland without a supermarket. However, plans for a new Waitrose food store faced resistance from local retailers especially. The site wasn’t zoned for retail, and there were concerns that the edge-of-town location would have a negative impact on Helensburgh’s thriving town centre. Our role was to help Waitrose gain planning approval.”
Such companies have been around for a while. The journalist Anna Minton recounts one story of a firm employed to promote the high speed rail project HS2 talking about being employed to “shit them up”. Them being any opponents who were presumably being maligned as NIMBY’s.
And I thought to myself should companies like this be allowed to respond? Who checks out their ‘evidence’ as none of their claims are backed up by any references or sources. Clearly these kind of firms represent their own vested interests and those of the clients that pay them, whilst also somewhat disingenuously claiming to represent the community interest by describing themselves as community engagement specialists.
So, for those who purport to be working in the public interest when in fact they have their own interests at heart, I hereby label you DIMVI’s.
Development is In My Vested Interest.
I suggest that individuals and organisations of this nature should be forced to add a cautionary notice to their responses.
‘Notification alert! This response contains arguments put forward by a DIMVI’
NB: We will be giving oral evidence to the Local Government and Communities Committee on the 28th February at 9.30am in Committee Room 4. You can come and support us in the public gallery if you wish. Read our written submission here. It is helpful to show a good presence in the public gallery during all of the LGCC evidence sessions on all the dates – 28th Feb, 7th, 14th & 21st March. If you can make any of these, call the Parliament to book a place (can only be done one week in advance, via Visitor Services, Switchboard on 0800 092 7500 or 0131 348 5000).