Headlines: October 31st, 2008

The Government is to put five million pounds into promoting new ways to encourage communities to take part in the planning process. Under the scheme individual local authorities could get additional funding to strengthen the way they carry out consultations.

The Communities Secretary, Hazel Blears, said planning was already one of the most democratic processes with most decisions being taken by elected local councillors. Too often, however, planning decisions became contentious because of a perceived lack of public involvement in decisions which could leave under- represented groups feeling disenchanted.

Under a new system of Planning Empowerment Grants councils will be urged to secure greater legitimacy for their decisions by putting some power into the hands of local communities. Eligible councils could receive up to 70,000 pounds in additional funding from the Housing and Planning Delivery Grant. Further funding from the new Empowerment Fund will go directly to third sector groups which promote community involvement in the planning system.

The idea is that councils will use the money to promote greater involvement in new consultation methods and through better access to information. Suggested innovative techniques include citizen’s juries, charrettes – intensive series of meetings and design sessions taking place over four to seven days – and Planning for Real, which is a nationally recognised system of community consulation. The Government wants councils to involve traditionally unrepresented people such as minority groups, social tenants and those on waiting lists in discussions before applications are debated, over large-scale development proposals and in the preparation of local development master plans and neighbourhood regeneration.

Hazel Blears said, “What better way to find the right solution than asking local people who know their communities best? I want to see the system delivering people planning not process planning.”