Planning and politics are inextricably linked.
Planning officers will generally look at a proposal from a planning perspective and make recommendations on this basis – never forgetting that personal views can play a role.
Politicians on the other hand are there to represent the views of the people who elected them. So, if it appears that a community totally opposes a planning development, local councillors may well see it as their job to represent that view and work to have the application turned down.
The problem is when a vocal minority creates the impression of mass objection when in reality most people are supportive or at least neutral. How can this happen?
Well, objectors object – they make themselves heard – loudly and constantly. Supporters on the other hand tend to be silent.
As a consequence, vocal minority groups can have a disproportionate influence on planning decisions. And this can cause delay and be very costly not just for the developer but also the local planning authority.
For the democratic process to work well, it is vitally important that politicians at all levels understand the views of the wider community and not just those of a vocal minority.
Consultation – Friend or Foe
All major developments represent change and nowadays all major developments have to be supported by increasing consultation.
The question is – does consultation help or can it in fact cause more problems than it solves?
On the positive side consultation can encourage a positive public debate allowing developers to understand and address real community concerns resulting in a better proposal.
However it is all too easy to see the downside. Opponents are given the opportunity to vocalise their often emotionally charged views slowing down the process by putting too much focus on a minority view.
So what is a developer to do? The answer lies in understanding your audience. In particular it is necessary to understand that opponents are often emotionally charged, motivated, well informed and dedicated and can see a specific development in a wider context. One example of many is anti-wind campaigners.
A frequent consultation failure is not engaging with the silent majority and it is this that can allow a small minority of strong-minded opponents to exert an exaggerated level of influence.
But it is possible to engage with the silent majority – it simply needs developers to take deliberate steps to widen the debate. Starting with in depth research to fully understand the target audience leading to a consultation programme tailored to engaging with and encouraging response from all sectors of the community and all perspectives. This does take time and effort but a positive consultation outcome can shorten planning timeframes or even avoid a public inquiry.
Want to Know More?
For more information on any of the topics in Navigating Consultation or if you would like advice on a specific development planning project please contact Jamie Gordon on 020 3697 7630.