The election results are a reminder of how hard it is to plan with residents' consent, by Richard Garlick

Local authorities are getting the government's message that they must plan for the development that their areas need.

According to the consultancy Lichfields, by March 2018, three-quarters of English authorities had either published or submitted a local plan that complied with the national planning framework, or had one found sound or adopted.

But, sadly for some former councillors in a few of those authorities, many voters don’t seem to have received the memo. This month’s local elections were notable for the successes of nationally unaffiliated local parties that campaigned against development in emerging or adopted local plans. In at least three South East councils - Uttlesford, Tandridge and Guildford - the rise of the local parties led to the Conservative party losing control (see News Analysis p06).

One suspects that some of the ousted councillors will feel that they have been betrayed by their own ministers’ planning policies. No doubt some of them will have been instinctively opposed to the growth plans that led to their demise, but ultimately supported them for fear of the speculative development that the government’s planning powers enables in the absence of an adopted local plan. They, and others, will be keenly interested in how their conquerors respond to the same policy pressures.

From what they said to Planning this week, the successful local parties will not be blindly bullish about ripping up plans or ignoring government policy. Cautious exploration of ways in which current plans could be improved seems mostly to be the order of the day.

However, people who voted for candidates on the basis of their opposition to development will be unimpressed if the schemes concerned are largely unaffected by the changes in council control. To maintain support, the new administrations in these authorities will have to find a new way of delivering the same quantity of development in a more palatable way. That will be difficult, as no doubt their predecessors will have left few stones unturned in their search for less unpopular options.

Overall, the local election results are yet another reminder to central and local government of how hard it is to plan necessary development while retaining local residents’ consent. At last week’s National Planning Summit, organised by Planning, community consultation consultant David Janner-Klausner told delegates that most of the conversation about planned development happened online, on social media platforms that are designed to create conflict. To build trust in the planning process, he said, more transparency is needed.

Creating that transparency will not be straightforward, but digital tools may be able to help as well as hinder the process. The government’s requirement, made clear in its March Planning Practice Guidance update, that data from developer contribution agreements should be collected to a standard format, is an example of how technology could help boost trust in the system.

Richard Garlick, editor, Planning //

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