Last night I was contacted by someone saying “is everything alright at Planning Democracy? You haven’t posted a blog post for ages”. I wrote back and said that yes we are going strong, in fact things have been so busy that we haven’t had time to do a blog post, so apologies to any readers who have missed us, but those of you on facebook can keep up to date by liking our page and seeing our posts there as well. The email inquiry went on to say “There are quite a lot of concerns around what is happening in planning, and Planning Democracy are an essential voice.” Thanks Alison we do understand just how many people feel there is an urgent need to be heard above the louder corporate voices, particularly at this time when the planning system is under review. We are doing our best to get the message to as many politicians, planners and communities as possible.
It is crucial that we all draw attention to the inequalities in planning and the problems people face. But just as important, is the need to present another narrative, especially to those concerned with the planning review. We need to move the debate away from viewing planning and any community involvement in it, as an obstacle to development or a bureaucratic nuisance that needs to be trimmed and pared down until there is virtually nothing left. Instead we need to remind decision makers that a strong, functional planning system is vital to the health and well-being of our society.
Planning was originally conceived as a democratic way of shaping our localities. It is an opportunity to set out an inspirational vision of the future and achieve good quality development that empowers communities and addresses the needs of the nation. But somehow planning has lost its way. It is no longer a means to work out solutions to our problems, such as energy and housing needs, or a way of creating sustainable communities that work with nature rather than destroy it. Instead it has become strongly focused on the delivery of development as a means of promoting economic growth, with community involvement being viewed as putting a break on the all- important free market.
We need to ask, (no, we need to collectively SHOUT), for a package of reform that strengthens planning. We need a system that gives planners the capacity and resources to decide –with the community- where to put our houses, our schools, and industry. Crucially, however, we need to give planners the tools and powers to make sure those plans are realised.
We need to use this positive vision of planning to counter the development industry claims that speed and efficiency are the only way of ensuring necessary development, such as housing.
We need to expose the assertions of the development industry that they are working in the public interest, that without them development cannot be delivered. We do this by highlighting any methods or tactics they use that show otherwise such as:
the use of repeat applications that wear communities down,
manipulation of consultation opportunities such as pre application consultation,
submitting applications piecemeal to avoid consultation requirements for major developments
intimidation tactics such as threats to sue anyone delaying their development.
We need to argue for a stronger plan-led system. We WANT rigorous debate in the development plan process as a means of ensuring that they represent the democratic will of the community on how and where socially necessary development should occur. Local and regional development plans are intended to guide where development goes. However, the reality is that we are working within a market driven system and too often the development sector controls where development goes, to the frustration of communities.
In order to direct development to desirable locations, with adequate infrastructure we need to develop more positive planning tools. These include powers for public land assembly and land value capture, (that are widely used across Europe) to ensure that preferred sites are developed and equipped with excellent infrastructure. (more on those in our next blog)
Planning Democracy have argued for all this in our submission to the review panel as well as during our oral evidence session. We think it crucial to focus on strengthening the plan-led system by introducing mechanisms to increase certainty that plans will be followed. This requires limiting discretion in the development management process and involves experimentation with more fixed forms of zonal plan-making. (we will expand on this in our next blog as well). This could help to build public confidence and increase levels of interest and engagement with development plans.
Finally the mechanism we are asking for to help ensure a stronger, plan-led system is that of an Equal Right of Appeal. Developers need to be incentivized to ensure that their proposals are in accordance with the local development plan. Providing communities with a right to appeal any planning decisions that runs contrary to a development plan would not only provide more certainty for communities, but would improve public trust; increasing the likelihood that people would want to engage positively with planning. This would help to change people’s engagement in planning from one of a negative, reactive, oppositional approach to one where people get more proactively involved in helping to shape Scotland into more socially and environmentally rewarding places.
The planning review consultation is in its concluding phase. If you want to contribute you can still do so through their online forum (Equal Rights of Appeal is one of the most commented on subjects but could do with some more folk contributing). The forum shuts on Monday 29th February. The final report is due in May.