So what does the Localism Act mean for the way developers approach community engagement and consultation?

This week the Localism Bill has finally become the Localism Act and  this will have  major implications for the way developers engage with communities.   We have pulled out some key game changers for  consideration below.

Neighbourhood Planning

Neighbourhood Planning will allow communities, both residents, employees and businesses to come together to say where they think new development should go.   This means that developers will need to engage early, to ensure that local plans include provision for things like renewable energy schemes, residential developments, waste management and so forth.   They will need to work more closely with communities, on an ongoing basis, rather than parachute in new proposals.

Pre-Planning Consultation

The Act introduces a new requirement for developers to consult local communities before submitting a planning application.  Importantly this means that developers will need to demonstrate how they have amended schemes as a result of the consultation, when they submit their application.  Failure to do so will increase the risk that their application is not successful on the grounds of inadequate or flawed consultation processes.  More participatory and pro-active consultation methods will be needed avoid this.

Reform of the Community Infrastructure Levy

Local authorities are allowed to require developers to pay a levy when they build new developments.  The Localism Act will make the levy more flexible.  It will provide local authorities more freedom in setting the rate and the Government will have the power to require that some of the levy goes directly to the neighbourhoods where the development takes place.  This means that developers will have more of an opportunity to talk to local people (and their representatives) about how their communities can benefit directly from proposed developments.

Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects

The Act abolishes the Infrastructure Planning Commission and restores its responsibility for taking decisions on major infrastructure projects (like train lines, power stations and large scale wind farms) to Government ministers.  As political animals these ministers will be swayed by public opinion and presently too much, poorly designed, consultation creates the impression that opposition to proposed developments is well supported.  Whereas often the truth is that many local people are at best apathetic.  They have just  not been involved in the consultation properly; meaning that the voice of the most vocal is the only opinion that is being heard.  The Act therefore makes it even more critical that an inclusive and pro-active approach is taken to consultation that does not allow the vocal few to dominate local dialogues and inappropriately sway ministerial opinion.

These highlights from  the Act show how consultation and community engagement has been placed at the centre of the planning process. This also means that if developers do not raise their game these changes will play into the hands of the vocal few (these are not bad people by the way), severely undermining their ability to gain consent.   A recent study shows that 82% of local Councillors believe that planning consultations only hear the views of the most vocal.  Better consultation and a more collaborative approach to engagement is needed if developers are to  gain consent (and make their developments better).

Participate has designed an inclusive, proactive and engaging approach to community engagement that helps to increase the likelihood of consultation being successful.  This still involves speaking to the most vocal residents, who are a valid and important stakeholder, but also means adopting methods that seek to tap into the views of the full spectrum of stakeholders involved.  This we believe generates more useful insight that can be used by developers to improve proposals, demonstrating that they work together with local communities and thereby increasing their chances of gaining planning permission.

Tell us what you think?

Oh and if  you need our help then get in touch with jonathanbradley@participate.uk.com  or give us a call on 0845 094 8191.  Our Twitter handle is @participateuk .

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