Participation is better than Consultation

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.

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. The government say that so far over 200 communities have voted in favour of their Neighbourhood Plans and 1600 more are work in progress, but mostly in southern rural areas. Writing a Neighbourhood Plan to withstand legal and other challenges is extremely labour intensive and often involves 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 District Council’s own plan which takes precedence especially when it comes to where to build new homes and how many. Neighbourhood Plans 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 is among Havant’s 14 wards which has a Neighbourhood Plan. Planning should be a compromise between technocrats, politicians and the voters. 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.