Planning & Public Engagement: The Truth & The Challenge

Group News

Regional Director, Sue Manns writes for the RTPI blog this month on “Planning & public engagement: the truth & the challenge”.

Sue argues that reaching out to ‘everyone’ in future planning proposals has never been more important, and that the current planning system has been allowing those most likely to resist change to dominate the discussions.

You can read Sue’s blog in full on the RTPI website.

How successful have we been as a profession in engaging people in the future of their areas?

The NPPF encourages applicants for planning permission to engage with the local community prior to submission and many developers now do this on a regular basis. However, currently the majority who engage with planning are over 55 years old, and response rates are only around 3% of those who have been directly been made aware of it. In Local Plan consultations, engagement can fall to less than 1%, however, planning decisions are being based on these samples.

Well-managed consultations start early, seek balanced engagement and encourage strategic thinking, however, they are too frequently failing to engage younger age groups for whom they are often planning.

Planning requires decision makers to understand a range of considerations across social, economic and environmental impacts, physical and financial constraints, and public opinion. Yet few planners or politicians, who may take these final decisions, have any understanding of human behaviour, specifically in relation to psychology and physiology of human reactions to change.

Planning needs to tap into human nature

People are naturally programmed to be protective of their homes and families and to resist any change that might be perceived to be a threat. Fear of change results in a negative stress response, at its most basic this is the ‘freeze, flight, fight’ mechanism. Around 10% of people are ‘fighters’ and it is these people most often encountered during planning proposals.

As people age, they become more resistant to change, the more distant a threat is perceived to be the more strategic thinkers will come to the fore, the more immediate or significant the threat, the more aggressive fighters will be seen. People also find it hard to recognise that others might hold different views, which can add to the stress response. Behaviour will also be influenced by experiences of past engagement and also by group dynamics – people rarely want to be seen to disagree with the views of a group they are part of for fear of being ostracised.

We need to think how we can change this and find a way we can ignite excitement in younger age groups in planning, how we can stimulate discussion and debate on equal terms across society, encourage everyone to think about change, and how this might affect their lives.

Plan to be ‘ahead of the curve’

Technology is changing the way we live, work and play. The rapid growth of internet shopping is changing the retail and distribution industry, yet many of our planning policies still seek to protect retail frontages and resist other high street uses. How will it affect the logistics industry? What role will drones play in the future delivery patterns? How will 3D printing impact on the location of manufacturing industries?

There is little doubt that these will have an impact on spatial planning. Planning needs to be ‘ahead of the curve’, if we are to be dynamic, economically successful, socially inclusive and environmentally stable as a country.

A nationwide conversation is needed around the spatial dynamics of technology change, embrace young and dynamic thinkers and those who see change as exciting. Let’s re-balance the objective driven engagement culture which has dominated planning over the last 50 years.

If you would like more information about public engagement or any of Pegasus Group’s services please contact us.