Keeping planning democratic: planning for a pandemic, planning for beyond
In the wake of new measures brought in to help build quickly during the coronavirus pandemic, we’re calling on the government to make sure local communities are still able to play their role in our planning system.
The government recently made some changes to the way local planning works to make sure it can respond quickly to public health needs during the coronavirus pandemic. This has enabled buildings such as the Nightingale hospitals to be set up within a fortnight. Naturally, these unusual times called for unusual measures – but we want to make sure that changes made to the planning system aren’t abused in the short term or undermine community-led planning in the future.
A robust, functional planning system is important because it ensures we build quality infrastructure in the places we need, use land efficiently and safeguard the countryside for all of us.
Planning for a post-pandemic world
Right now, people’s health has quite rightly been put first. But there are already signs that these new powers are being misused in some areas. Some planning meetings have been closed to the public (as reported by CPRE London) and large decisions that would normally be made by a panel of elected councillors are instead being taken behind closed doors by officers. Unless the government moves quickly to make sure the public can still engage with planning committees on major decisions, there’s a risk of undermining our planning system permanently.
The government’s new rules do give opportunities to help open ‘virtual planning committees’ to more people by taking them online. We’d like to see the government direct councils to take advantage of that technology to give them the best chance of making decisions that are best for communities. Normally, people can engage with the planning system to help positively shape the future of their area by providing insight and expertise on things such as proposed developments happening nearby.
This public oversight is the heartbeat of our democratic planning system. We’re calling on the government to make sure all major planning decisions can be scrutinised as normal, with members of the public given the right and opportunities to speak up. Doing this well will require an increased effort to include those who might not have access to digital technology.