RAY COBBETT: Participation is better than consultation

The Friends of the Earth co-ordinator for Havant and East Hampshire says planning should be a compromise between technocrats, politicians and the voters.

Friday, 2nd March 2018, 8:52 am
Updated Friday, 2nd March 2018, 9:54 am

Havant Borough Council has recently concluded a six-week public consultation on its draft local plan.

All local planning authorities must have a long-term plan for their areas prepared in accordance with national policies.

The government’s message is that if councils don’t have a plan then Whitehall will step in and write one for them.

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The process is well-defined and consists of several steps starting with gathering evidence through to consultations on the draft plan, an independent test for soundness, a public inquiry and finally adoption by councillors.

In 2011, in a bid to make planning more resident-friendly, the government launched localism to encourage the active participation of local people in developing Neighbourhood Plans (NP).

The government say that so far more than 200 communities have voted in favour of their NPs and 1,600 more are work in progress but mostly in southern rural areas.

Writing an NP to withstand legal and other challenges is extremely labour-intensive, often involving mostly retired people with a grasp of planners jargon.

As for the plan itself, it might start out with high hopes but before long it encounters the council’s own plan which takes precedence, especially when it comes to where to build new homes and how many.

But NPs are probably here to stay and be improved, not least through encouraging their use in urban areas through the formation of local forums.

Only Emsworth among Havant’s 14 wards has an NP. Planning should be a compromise between technocrats, politicians and the voters.

But it so often becomes a struggle between planning officials and residents while local politicians lie low, blame the government or each other.

This can be minimised through a clear vision at all levels, an offer of real options and a better understanding of the needs of people and a developers’ payback for nature.