Citizen Planning

The role of people in the future of our cities should not rest solely on development professionals just engaging with or consulting them. 

We need to give the people responsibility for the decisions that are made. We need, as Marcus Aurelius exhorts Maximus in Ridley Scott’s Gladiator (2000) on his deathbed, ‘to give power back to the people of Rome’. 

The legitimacy of our planning system and trust in development is an oft argued topic. There has certainly been massive progress in how communities and individuals are engaged during the planning process, but still mistrust and misunderstanding is the more prevalent theme.  This is particularly true in London – self-promoted, self-styled as one city (with one London Plan), when actually a large collection of very different places with very different identities.  

This piece is an extension of an idea I submitted to the NLA’s recent 40 Ideas for London competition – Citizen Planning.  

The idea embeds a relatively simple proposition from elsewhere and applies it to decisions around planning. If we trust people to exercise sound judgement on matters of criminal law, why would we not do so on how our city is shaped? 

In its most basic form, it works like this: 

Major strategic applications – to be defined by the Mayor of London – would be decided by a randomly selected jury of London residents, with proceedings managed by an independent planning inspector. 

The purpose being that if we want our communities to have a vested interest in planning and to consider the city’s future to be their decision, we need to give them responsibility for some of those decisions.    

Planning is already a ‘quasi-judicial’ process, so why not extend that a little bit.   Imagine how differently one might approach a development if it was 12 randomly selected Londoners who had the ultimate decision-making power, rather than ten politicians on a committee, or one Mayor of London in City Hall. 

In crude fashion – and to reverse the position in criminal law – how would you feel if a high-profile murder case was put before some politicians to decide the verdict?   Would you trust them to make an independent, prudent judgement, uninfluenced by any political or media pressure, or vested interest?  

As with any idea, it is for discussion rather than one fully formed.  However, I do believe two things very strongly; firstly, that we must find a way to include everyone in decision-making around development, and secondly, that we should trust in the people to exercise the right judgement – even if we disagree.