NICVA and TCI host seminar on improving public influence on planning issues

People from a variety of sectors with an interest in planning last week discussed public influence on planning issues, in a seminar organised jointly by NICVA & The Consultation Institute.

Attendees first heard from Penny Norton, author of ‘Public Consultation and Community Engagement in Planning’. Penny advised how the planning system is meant to work: the fundamentals of town planning, the process and variations of community consultation, how planning consent is reached and what checks and balances in the system exist.  She also highlighted, based on extensive research from over 100 case studies, some of the different approaches being taken to consultation, including the development of online methods.

Rhion Jones, co-founder of The Consultation Institute, set out three big challenges for the voluntary and community sector, particularly for resident and neighbourhood groups – how early access to the debate can be obtained, how to avoid being seen simply as NIMBY campaigners and how to work with local elected representatives.

Louise O’Kane of Community Places highlighted what was learned from the ‘Rethinking NIMBYism’ project, a joint programme delivered by Louise and Aidan Campbell from the Rural Community Network. Using the Project Conversations Project (PCP) dialogue methodology, the project dug deeper into planning issues in rural communities that was perceived by others as NIMBYism. Among the project’s recommendations included the development of effective community engagement guidelines, alternative business models for renewable energy sites and substituting the term ‘NIMBY’ for less loaded terms such as ‘place protectors’ or ‘custodians’.

NICVA gave participants at the event an opportunity to break out into groups to discuss barriers to engage in the planning process and to identify solutions to overcome those barriers.

Some of the barriers those in attendance identified included:

  • A lack of information being made available to stakeholders which leads to a lack of understanding and an assumption that the views of residents are being disregarded
  • People not feeling empowered to participate in the planning process
  • Poor facilitation of input from minority interests
  • A lack of trust in the planning system: a perception that planning decisions have already been made and community consultation only leads to marginal amendments to a proposed development
  • The planning process itself is flawed and leads to an adversarial, developers vs. residents’ context

Some of the solutions included:

  • The re-considering of the threshold for pre-application community consultation
  • Greater standards for pre-application community consultation to be applied and enforced by local authorities
  • The granting of additional time to objectors at planning committee meetings to allow them to voice their objections in constructive way
  • An ‘award scheme’ for planners and developers when good consultation practice is identified
  • The teaching of planning at schools within a wider citizenship curriculum

NICVA would like to thank TCI Engagement’s Quintin Oliver for facilitating our speakers on the day.

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