Giving the silent majority a voice

Jake Cunliffe


Ideas on how best to boost the growth of some of the UK’s biggest regional cities have been published this week by the City Growth Commission.

Titled ‘Unleashing Metro Growth’, the document outlines a number of strategic initiatives to enable this, including giving cities the option to “reclassify poor quality Green Belt and promote Green Belt swaps” in order to facilitate more housing and commercial development – ultimately creating “Metro cities” with “Metro mayors”, all connected by a HS3 underground.

It would be preaching to the choir to detail the many issues that could arise from the implementation of such legislation; Communities Secretary Eric Pickles recently commented, “Local people don’t want to lose their countryside to urban sprawl, or see the vital green lungs around their towns and cities to unnecessary development”. How can this be reconciled with the CGC’s vision of a “ManSheffLeedsPool”?

It’s surprising then that the report undersells how important engaging with local communities is in progressing this vision. In a 40-plus page manifesto, it mentions only twice that local people should be engaged with, commenting that doing so can “create buy-in for more flexible arrangements for enhancing economic, social and environmental value”.

This collaborative approach – giving local communities the opportunity to voice their opinion on, and therefore influence, a development – has been practiced by enlightened developers for some time and was finally enshrined in the 2011 Localism Act.

However, its brief inclusion in the City Growth Commission’s report highlights how unimportant this methodology is sometimes considered – in this case by those tasked with enabling more development across the country.

It’s no wonder then that a number of Councils in the UK have taken a similar approach, only giving local people the chance to have their say on an application if certain requirements (demonstrating a certain level of public support in order unlock a slot to speak, for example) are met.

Having been in this situation on a number of occasions, Local Dialogue knows all too well what difference a supportive statement from a local resident can have on the determination of an application.

With persistence, we’ve been able to meet those requirements, even in the most contentious areas, giving a voice to the silent majority.

However, this should be a given. Anyone, whether they’re for or against a planning application, should be allowed to make their voice heard by those with a seat at the table.

Jake Cunliffe