Headlines: June 3rd, 2008

The money available for Planning Aid, which is designed to ensure people have the advice, skills and professional support they need to have their say over planning applications, is to be extended. The announcement has been made by the Communities and Local Government Secretary, Hazel Blears, and comes after criticism that proposals in the Planning Reform Bill now going through the Commons, would make the planning process less democratic.

The Planning Aid fund, which was doubled to just over three million pounds this year, is to be increased to 4.1 million pounds in 2009-10 and to 4.5 million the following year. It is estimated that the fund will directly help 25,000 people this year. It works by supporting community groups in developing their understanding of the planning system, so they can be more effective in making their views heard, and by helping individuals who cannot afford a planning consultant and who would be excluded from the process.

Hazel Blears said the Bill would give people a fairer say through public consultation, and at planning inquiries but creating opportunities for public participation was not enough. “We need also to do more to support local communities and individuals, particularly those least able to put forward their case, with the advice and skills they need to engage effectively, which is where this new funding will provide direct help,” she added.

The system makes advice available free to all callers and offers more detailed help to eligible individuals and groups. It is aimed particularly at people on benefits, pensioners, or those on low incomes as well as offering planning advice to small charities, voluntary and community groups, tenants’ organisations, social enterprises and other not-for-profit businesses.