Genuine community engagement must be a statutory requirement at the heart of planning reforms
by Phillip Vincent,

Genuine community engagement must be a statutory requirement at the heart of planning reforms

National rural charity, Action with Communities in Rural England (ACRE) calls on the Government to make it a legal requirement that the new planning system works with communities.

Last year, the Government set out how it wants to overhaul the planning system. This included an emphasis on bolstering community engagement, but few details were offered as to how this could happen.

Seizing this as an opportunity, ACRE brought together a group of neighbourhood and community planning experts to identify specific mechanisms by which communities can be placed at the heart of the new planning system.

The planning system must give communities confidence that their views and plans will be taken into account and be legally binding

In a briefing paper submitted to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG), the group led by the charity recommends legislative changes that would ensure communities are genuinely engaged upfront in local plan making so they can shape the amount, type and design of new development for their area, whichever Zone they live in.

Recommendations include:

  • Strengthening statutory requirements on local authorities so there is up front meaningful community engagement in Strategic Local Plan making, including through the proposed Sustainability Test
  • Requiring Local Planning Authorities to support and take account of community views with an enforceable Code of Practice
  • Providing additional resources and funding so that local planning authorities can implement the statutory requirements to work in partnership with communities
  • Introducing a range of statutory mechanisms so that communities can engage directly in shaping the use of land, mix of uses and design of development locally in each of the three ‘Zones’ proposed in the Planning White Paper
  • Channelling community engagement through ‘qualifying bodies’ / community partnerships defined in regulation. This would include Neighbourhood Planning groups, but also parish councils and open up engagement to other members of the community who until now have not had a voice
  • Any transitional arrangements must take into account that these plans are volunteer led. As now, a new Local Plan should not mean that all policies in a ‘made’ Neighbourhood Plan no longer carry statutory weight

Jo Lavis, ACRE’s Housing and Planning Policy Advisor said, “Much can be learnt from the experience of the many neighbourhood and community plans that have been created over the past decade. Communities will only engage when there are genuine opportunities for them to have a say about what type of development there should be to provide the homes, jobs, services and green spaces they need. Critically, the planning system must give these communities confidence that their views and plans will be taken into account and be legally binding.”