Anyone for tennis (and Local Plan consultation)?

Will Rogers

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Summer is here and we have some big events to look forward to. Andy Murray’s latest bid for a second Wimbledon crown is underway and here at Local Dialogue we are also keeping a watchful eye on weekly events that are taking place nationwide: Local Plan consultation (yes, really!).

The Local Plan, typically the baseline for making decisions on planning applications, is subject to public consultation at each stage. Councils do themselves – and local residents – no favours by not having one in place, but despite this, recent research reveals that 57% of UK planning authorities are yet to adopt an updated Local Plan.

As the majority of decisions are delegated to a sub-committee or the chief planning officer, reference to the Local Plan is one critical aspect of the decision-making process. On average, planning authorities delegate 90% of applications, with some delegating 99% of decisions. The need for a Local Plan is evident as this is what guides hard-working officers!

While the 1968 Town and Country Planning Act introduced public participation, it did not outline how it would work in practice. Despite witnessing a marked progress in engagement since then, whether it’s responding to public consultation for Local Plans or identifying Assets of Community Value, inaccessible and convoluted language still hinders community engagement.

A number of local authorities, such as Rushmore Borough Council, are currently coordinating exhibitions outlining objectives prior to consultation, and while the queue to get in won’t be as snaking as the resale ticket line at Wimbledon, the process deserves attention.

Like endless rain delays at SW19, constant rounds of consultation only serve to initiate scepticism. If consultation has been done well initially, there will be plenty of information and views formally recorded, bringing spin-off benefits. Language that can easily be understood by local communities can make all the difference in successfully promoting and securing consent.

The process needs to be translated into a simple and clear structure that can be easily understood by local communities and therefore allows feedback to be provided. It will be interesting to see the turnout chalked (commonly known as titanium pigment at the All England Club) up during consultation.

In the meantime, I’ll wait with bated breath for a quintessential Cliff Richard sing-along, another successful Murray championship and to see which local authorities make the most of this opportunity.