Involving communities, young people and school children in planning and co-design is central to JTP’s ethos.
We believe the best places are created through inclusive engagement processes that facilitate creative dialogue between developers, the community, and the local planning authority. This process should extend from early visioning and plan-making through to detailed design. We are concerned that the White Paper’s proposals for community engagement limit community involvement to the early planning stages and have been developed without an understanding of what is required to make engagement inclusive and meaningful.
The White Paper suggests that community engagement will be via digital media only. This approach needs to be reconsidered. JTP has over 25 years’ experience of engaging communities in visioning, co-design and collaborative masterplanning. Our experience has taught us that a wide range of communication methods should be used if the engagement is to be truly inclusive.
Relying solely on one method will inevitably exclude many groups of people. Although digital methods of engagement are important, and likely to engage more young people, they are not accessible to everyone. If the engagement process is solely digital, it will exclude many elderly people, people in rural communities and people from socio-economically disadvantaged communities, who are less likely to have access to the internet via smartphones or computers. People with some learning and physical disabilities will also be excluded. Therefore, relying solely on digital engagement will not result in an equitable and inclusive process.
We fully support the proposed early involvement of communities in collaborative plan making and developing local design codes. However, getting a wide range of people involved in the early stages of planning will be challenging and require appropriate levels of funding and resources through the public or private sector. In both instances, this investment will be required early in the development process. In our experience, timely engagement can identity issues early, build consensus and speed up planning. A properly resourced proactive approach will be necessary if the outcome is to be truly representative of the community’s aspirations.
The engagement process needs to be tailored to the needs of each community. Getting out and about to meet groups in places they normally gather such as shopping centres, high streets, community events, religious gatherings and utilising amenity groups such as Civic Societies is often necessary to encourage involvement in early stage planning and should be a first stage in the process. Using existing resources including Urban Rooms for public displays and events, as well as utilising community councils could be helpful. Of course, this type of engagement will need to be adapted to comply with COVID-19 restrictions, for as long as they apply.
We are also concerned that digital engagement does not result in the quality of creative input from the community through iterative co-design that methods such as charrettes (sometimes known as Community Planning or Enquiry by Design) achieve. Meaningful dialogue between the community, the local authority and site promoters will require a range of engagement opportunities. The methods need to ensure that there is depth as well as breadth to the participation. People should have opportunities to contribute to co-creating a vision for their town, village or neighbourhood at the start of the process. This vision should then shape a spatial plan and associated design codes.
The White Paper proposals remove some of the ways in which people currently engage in the planning system, and mean that for most development, there opportunity for people to have a say would be limited to the Local Plan preparation stage and the development of design codes. We believe this is wrong. It should be every citizen’s right to comment on detailed designs and their views should be taken into account, within the context of the principles set out in the national and local design guidance, when considering planning applications.
- Planning reforms should specify inclusive community engagement processes and not be restricted to digital engagement media.
- Adequate funding should be provided to local planning authorities run meaningful and inclusive community engagement processes – this may involve training staff of recruiting new staff.
- Community involvement should not be restricted to early planning stages -it should extend through to detailed application stage.
- More use should be made of Design Review Panels to support local authorities in plan making, developing design codes, reviewing proposals for major sites during pre-application stages and providing design training for officers and councillors.