chapter  5
23 Pages

COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT IN SPATIAL PLANNING

Community involvement is a central feature of spatial planning. It is a key source of evidence in the plan-making process and is a way that individuals, communities and businesses can see that their views have been sought and taken into account. The use of evidence in the spatial planning process needs to be transparent and collected in ways that are inclusive and appropriate. In this chapter, the purposes of community involvement, its relationship with spatial planning and the methods that can be used are discussed. There has been much debate about the role of consultation and whether it can ever be more than a tokenistic approach. Parker (2008) identifies this scepticism and relates it to the quality of the processes that have been undertaken, whilst Doak and Parker describe the process of consultation in planning as potentially ‘stillborn’ despite a considerable push for more participative processes (2005: 30). Dickert and Sugarman (2005) have proposed that consultation should be based on ethical goals, where the processes and outcomes can also be evaluated by the community. Planning has a longer involvement in consultative and participative methods of engagement in its processes, and may have been on the first services to openly include participation as part of formal process (Morphet 2005). However, as Nadin (2007) points out, by the late 1990s it was struggling to keep up with the wider use of community-based approaches in local decision making. The drive for more local engagement that was set out in Modern Local Government: In Touch with the People (DETR 1998) started the promotion of active engagement which has continued since. These approaches to involving people as communities, customers or individuals have not always been successful, but they do mark a change in focus. This has culminated in the 2007 Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act which now requires a more formal and centralised approach to consultation through a ‘duty to involve’ by public bodies. It also sets a transparent approach to the use of evidence, so that those engaging in the decisionmaking process have a more equal access to the information available to political decision makers and can see if their views have been taken into account. The interest in more deliberative democracy has been particularly developed over the last decade, and may draw its provenance from the private sector, where keeping close to customers is as important as managing the balance sheet (Mintrom 2003: 53).

Although the marketisation of the public sector has been regarded as an anathema to many, the return of a left-leaning government created a mixed public sector, which is drawing its tools from a variety of sources. More recently, the voluntary and community sectors have emerged as service providers (HM Treasury and Cabinet Office 2007). This means that the role and quality of public engagement through participative methods has to be more transparent. When all services were run directly by local authorities, elected councillors could claim a democratic mandate which did not replace a participative approach but at least could make some legitimate link between service user and provider. The evolution of the mixed economy has meant that the client or owner of the services has to take far more care of customer feedback and quality of delivery, not least where the provision of a service is out-sourced to another local authority, or the community or private sector. On the other hand, a mixed economy also enables services to be offered in new formats without lengthy negotiations about change and also allows segmentation of services to meet the needs of specific users. The goal of increasing participation in the development and delivery of public services has many different and complex objectives. In some cases, participative democracy is a means of improving efficiency at all scales (Putnam 2000) whilst, in other cases, it engages people in hard decisions in a form of co-production. By finding ways of increasing ownership in decision making, then hard decisions may not seem so unpalatable. The recent shift to LAAs produces a quasi-voluntaristic model for housing where provision has previously been hierarchical. The LAA includes ‘negotiation’ and is described as a co-production approach to delivery although, in the case of housing, many local authorities would not have included any target in their LAA without extreme government pressure (Morphet 2009b). So participation ‘in’ and consultation ‘on’ issues do not guarantee a sense of ownership in the decision that is taken. In some cases, consultation can be politically inconvenient for organisations. It is sometimes much easier for organisational leaders to advise that targets, allocations of housing or other unsought developments such as prisons or hostels are imposed from a higher tier of government, as this exonerates them from the decision making process.