Localism Bill



Reform of the planning system

Comments on the Bill re:

Neighbourhood consultation, development orders and plans,


Lichfield Planning, formed in 1991 by Dalia and Prof. Nathaniel Lichfield, is a town planning consultancy combining wide ranging planning projects with also development of unique approaches and methods of integrated planning, for serious community involvement.

We have extensive experience in all aspects of urban planning – having worked for local authorities, for the private sector, and for the public at large, on a wide variety of urban and regenerations strategies, housing, community facilities, and commercial developments.

In this document we outline in general terms what we see as the aims of the Localism Bill and its underlying problems. We also describe in more detail a better approach to local planning and offer three methods which may help in solving some of the issues that are likely to arise form attempts to implement the Bill.

Underlying aims and shortcomings of the Bill

Localism aims to focus on people’s own perceptions and needs and to produce suitable living environments. It hopes to serve the public at large. As such it shares the aims of spatial planning. Localism regards the previous planning system as too bureaucratised and wants to allow people to express their real needs and have them materialise, with greater roles for the private sector. But the few months of its operation have shown up major shortcomings of the Localism idea and practice.

Overall, the well intentioned ‘Localism’ lacks a coherent conceptual foundation for the nature of planning and its relationship with the private sector in general and for local planning in particular; in consequence it:

· fails to offer an effective strategy for implementation of the ‘Localism’ ideal;

· Leads to economically and socially inadequate decisions and waste of resources;

· Risks public dissatisfaction and political reaction.

Following are some of the important consequences which do or will arise if the Bill is passed in its current state, with a brief indication of measures to mitigate the problem.

Our more detailed proposals for a better Conceptual Foundation, for a Strategy for Implementation and for Practical Tools are set in the subsequent sections.

Potential Consequences and mitigating measures

· Local neighbourhood plans prepared by local residents cannot provide the best outcomes without taking into account the inter-dependencies between their area and the functions of other areas re employment, services, etc. local planning cannot be done ‘in a silo’ - it requires wider knowledge, interactions, and rules of decision making.

Therefore neighbourhood planning has to be supported by methods that clarify the need for a wider view and enable integrated planning with all relevant public, private and voluntary stakeholders whose real-life interactions shape our life..

· Local plans cannot be sensible and efficient without having regard to a wider framework that reflects inter-relations between settlements – those capable of providing more housing and others that provide more employment or greenery etc, and then relate all these to land supply and infrastructure needs. The absence of regional frameworks will lead to both shortages and duplications.

Therefore a permanent forum has to be established for monitoring regional situations and agreeing a development strategy. City-regions are probably the best functional delineation of such regions. But a further tier for intra-regional relationships is necessary for management of the disparities between different parts of the country.

· Local authorities (LAs) without a coherent, integrated regional and local outlook, and without the ability to interface local areas with one another, are losing their creative potential. they are confused about their roles in that situation, and with the budget cuts are opting to do the minimum, resulting in poor localised planning;

Therefore a coherent framework is needed, setting out the conceptual foundation for ‘planning’ and its reflection in the roles of neighbourhood/parish, urban and regional planning bodies.

· Local neighbourhood planning is supposed to represent local interests, but public participation is inadequate on three counts:

a. Consultations frequently focus on an ‘ideal future’ and ignore the feasibility of getting there;

b. Quality of life in neighbourhoods depends on both residential, business, services and environment, but public participation and decision by those on the electoral register alone, excludes other essential stakeholders.

c. Current methods of consultation do not ensure true representation of all groups affected by a plan/project;

Therefore a more integrated approach and practical methods for neighbourhood planning have to be made available to all communities.

· Any proposed action – at neighbourhood or higher level – is likely to expose conflicting interests. The previous planning system relied in many instances on ‘policy ticking’ which were bureaucratic. Localism does not offer a new principle for decision making, nor does it provide an extensive mediation service. Conflicts and injustices are likely to arise.

Therefore a clear and fair approach to decision making has to be formulated, which would take into account the distribution – amongst different groups of people and of global interests – of benefits and disadvantages likely to arise from approving or refusing proposed action. Guidance on dialogue and mediation would also be needed.

Proposed changes to the bill

The Bill provides a plethora of detailed requirements on aspects of its implementation, while at the same time it lacks an underlying sound concept of planning. Such a concept, if shared between local authorities, developers and citizens could inherently lead to better decision making.

We are suggesting a different foundation for Localism, with would ‘reform the proposed Reform of the Planning System’. Rather than tackle the detailed items of the Bill, we are offering a more coherent concept and practical methods which, if accepted, would guide detailed changes to the Bill.

We consider that the state of flux in which planning finds itself is an opportunity for fresh ideas, possibly improving on both the pre-election system and on the nascent ‘localism’.

An underlying concept

Assuming that maximising the public benefit is still the overarching aim of all concerned with ‘town planning’, a shared concept of the way planning should be operable.

The overarching aim of ‘town planning’ is to minimise disadvantages and maximise the public benefit in its widest sense. In a nutshell:

· Different groups of people experience beneficial or adverse impacts of change in the urban regional & national spheres;

· Such changes are the product of interactions between economic, social, environmental, institutional and other factors, driven by stakeholders’ decisions and actions;

· Many of these changes result from market forces that are welcome in meeting public demand, but on occasion also cause disadvantages to other people;

· To maximise the public benefit, town planning should be capable of managing the ongoing processes of urban change so as to maximise benefits and mitigate ill effects.

· It is essential for those involved in planning to understand the causes and effects of ongoing processes of change, so that they could manage them efficiently in the wider interests.

· Decisions would then be made on the basis of full understanding of processes of change and the motives and constraints of the stakeholders behind them. Planners should exercisie judgement about what would produce the best results in the public interest, rather than make bureaucratic decisions, as in ‘policy ticking’. decisions ose invo, If

This concept of planning is inherently integrated. it could materialise through the use of methods based on understanding and working with ongoing processes of urban change. The methods exist and comprises Dynamic Planning and Community Impact Analysis & Evaluation.

But the Government strategy for change should invest in providing the tools and training for a better concept and practice of planning.

The attached paper spells out this concept and practice in greater detail, and had won approval from Bob Neill, the Minister of Planning. There are no doubt other examples of good practice, but none can be useful in isolation, if those concerned do not share an underlying concept of planning and decision making. But the current system does not provide the resources to invest in training and widening a shared, integrated concept of planning. The Bill ought to respond to that challenge.

Practical methods of coherent integrated planning

A coherent, integrative planning system would require fresh thinking about the underlying concept of ‘planning’, the art of ‘plan making’ and the discipline of control over development, as well as the methods of their operation. Here are some ideas for an improved system of integrated and effective planning.

Dynamic Planning

Underlying this approach is the appreciation of human settlements as dynamic places – where stakeholders interact in social, economic, environmental and other spheres. These interactions determine which people and businesses are attracted to a given area, with what activities, lifestyle and living standards, and where clashes and problems will arise. The interactions also determine what changes are feasible, and who would benefit or be disadvantaged by them. Clear understanding of these interactions would be the foundations for a constructive dialogue between the public, private and voluntary sectors. Both the concept and the methods of planning should reflect these dynamic processes and thus create integrated and realistic plans.

Although some people identify ‘planning’ with the restrictive ‘development control’, the full purpose of ‘planning’ is to manage processes of change in a manner that prevents or corrects undesirable phenomena and ensures, on balance, a more beneficial future to the public at large.

To that end, the planner’s main challenge is two-fold: to understand properly the ongoing and future interactive processes of urban change, their causes and their outcomes, and to get all those involved in the process to reach ‘joined up thinking’ about the problems, potential solutions, and likely outcomes. Such appreciation of real life interactions is an essential basis for effective interventions.

This is inherently integrated planning, addressing urban life as a complete system rather than as ‘silo’ sections. It requires thorough understanding of:

· The motives and constraints of ‘active stakeholders’ involved in a given process;

· the root causes of problems and which of these can be eliminated;

· the likely consequences of anticipated or proposed change; and

· who would be the ‘recipient stakeholders’ affected beneficially or adversely by the consequences.

This approach inevitably brings into the frame also causes that emanate from outside the ‘locality’ (e.g. places of employment; transportation; etc) as well as impacts that spread beyond the ‘locality (e.g. retail, housing needs). This frame of mind sees the locality in its broader context rather than as a ‘local capsule’. It is particularly pertinent to the LEPs and BID initiatives.

Our experience shows that ‘joined up thinking’ can be achieved with the aid of a coherent concept, well thought out methods and some practical techniques to carry it through. We refer in particular to the Lichfield Planning MethodsTM of Dynamic Planning and Community Impact Analysis & Evaluation.

Dynamic Planning is concerned with the dynamics of urban change, and its planning process involves investigating the dynamic relationships between stakeholders. It offers structured workshops that assist the diverse stakeholders to construct together a picture of the interacting forces, appreciating the causes of problems and effective strategies for a better future. The method can be presented as a tool kit, in written or web based format.

The so called ‘social, economic and other forces’ are actually the result of stakeholders making decisions and taking action in various spheres. With this outlook, public participation in consultations gains a more significant role than an exploration of ‘what is wrong’ and ‘visioning’ of a bright future. Participants explore their interactions and inter-dependencies; they come to see their respective roles in the past and in a future process of change, and who is affected by their actions. This leads to a much better understanding of each others’ motives and constraints, a realistic view of what could be changed in the future, and greater sensitivity to impacts on other people. This is a sound basis for a development strategy that takes on board the critical inter-dependencies and provides the time and resources for them in the programme.

The Dynamic Planning method thus ascribes a more substantive role to consultations with stakeholders and creates a very close link between ‘consultations’ and effective planning. It breaks barriers between separate sectors and departments. It reduces conflicts between ‘active’ and ‘recipient’ stakeholders and assists mediation. Nonetheless, each proposed development is likely to benefit some people while being detrimental to others. Making decisions in such circumstances is the art of Community Impact Analysis, which is described below and comes under the umbrella of the Dynamic Planning approach.

The Dynamic Planning method has been applied to projects ranging from area regeneration to regional planning and is very effective in promoting joined up thinking between participants of diverse backgrounds, education and agendas. It involves stakeholders in a satisfying manner; it expands the participants’ horizons, and gives the planner who works in that manner a different and exciting perception of planning as management of processes of change.

Leading figures in CLG and elsewhere have expressed their support for this method.

Community Impact Analysis - Evaluating plans in the paradigm o f ‘localism’

‘Planning’ to most people means ‘Development Control’ that restricts their freedom. David Cameron referred to it as ‘a public enemy’. That is because the principles underlying project assessment and planning decisions are not widely accepted. Project assessment in the private sector is relatively simple – any variations in the economic, physical or operational circumstances of a proposal are assessed against ‘the bottom line’, with the numbers of pounds and pence being the financial common denominator, expressing profit and loss of the operating company.

Public sector assessment of planning proposals has a very different footing. Its primary aim is to maximise the many different benefits to people. Developments are currently subject to different analyses and appraisals – Planning policies, Sustainability, EIA, TIA, Retail impact, Employment impact, etc. These analyses often use different terminologies for similar items, e.g. effects/outputs; impacts/outcomes; people/stakeholders/sensitive receptors, etc. Financial outcomes are one aspect of these analyses. It is then quite difficult to apply a common denominator and to balance out these very diverse outcomes.

Community Impact Analysis and Evaluation (CIA/E) offers a human common denominator for assessment of planning proposals: the numbers of people likely to experience beneficial or adverse impacts from changes to the economy, the environment, the transport system, etc, and the intensity of the impacts upon them. The impacts may vary in nature – income levels, visual pleasure, social tensions, etc – but in the final account they affect the degree of happiness or suffering of people.

CIA/E links with the Dynamic Planning technique of process analysis – Dynamic Planning explores the chains of causes of a given situation and the ‘active stakeholders’ behind each cause, and CIA traces through the chains of effects likely to emanate from a proposed scheme or other intervention, and the ‘Recipient stakeholders’ who will experience the impacts of each effect. The analysis identifies effects that were intended to achieve the desirable objectives, as well as the various side effects which may have beneficial or adverse impacts on different groups. For example, a road widening intended to relieve congestion may have a side effect of raising adjacent property values – which is beneficial for the owners and adverse for those looking for a home. Naturally the same person may be both ‘active’ and ‘recipient’ at different stages in the process of change.

The analysis normally identifies a large number of effects and groups who will experience their impacts (recipient groups). These are displayed in a ‘balance sheet’ of this ‘social cost/benefit’ analysis, showing how many people would experience beneficial or adverse impacts on their lifestyle, and with what intensity, as a result of the proposed development or policy.

CIA/E can be used to compare a given proposal against an alternative proposal or against a ‘do nothing’ option. The method has a number of advantages:

· it promotes transparency and accountability since the full implications of each decision are there for all to see;

· it is a meaningful framework for public consultation since it allows consultees to identify the impacts on themselves, while also increasing their awareness of beneficial or adverse impacts on other groups, and the wider public interest;

· Each member of a locality can then see what particular impacts he/she is likely to experience and provide a justified response;

· it presents all the factual information, yet leaves observers and decision makers to place their own values on each impact and group when considering the overall balance;

· it accounts for all stakeholders, as opposed to the unbalanced picture created by vocal and ‘single issue’ pressure groups;

· it allows decision takers to justify the decision in terms of the wider public interest despite some harm to particular interests; and

· it promotes analysis and understanding of the urban processes of change.

In our experience CIA/E can be applied to both physical development and socio-economic policies. It is equally pertinent to national and local plans, to urban regeneration, and development control. It has been used dozens of times and won several RTPI awards.

This method does not negate the many different appraisals currently in use, but takes their findings further towards a comprehensive balance of impacts on people.

Bob Neil, the Minister of Planning, has expressed high appreciation of these methods.

Participatory Budgeting – ‘Hanging your projects on the Budget line’

This is a further tool which assists constructive dialogue between stakeholders, incorporating the concepts of project evaluation and trade-off on the basis of maximising public benefits. It is applicable to local regeneration planning, where the costs of projects promoted far exceeds the available budget. The method leads people to present their pet projects visually as paper cut outs whose width represent the project cost and whose length represents the number of people likely to benefit. Each person is invited to hang their project on the budget line and, once the entire length of the line is occupied, the proposers are led into a discussion of trade-off between projects. This method, applied to regeneration plans, had excellent results of enhanced mutual understanding and agreement. The Big Society Network has shown great interest in this method.

From Compartmentalism to a n I ntegrated S ystem

The Dynamic Planning approach is based on understanding interactions between different aspects of urban life, and on dialogue and ‘joined up thinking’ between stakeholders involved in these aspects. But our society tends to operate in a compartmentalised manner. There is compartmentalism between local authorities, private sector and academic organisations, as well as within each of these.

Local authorities are best placed to move from compartmentalised to integrative practice, since Chief Executives have the power to institute a different regime. But to do so they have to realise the importance of an integrative culture. The Government could advance this realisation through a new planning system, if it adopted a coherent concept of planning, as initiated in this paper. Once set as a general philosophy, it could carry through to the other sectors.

The Dynamic Planning method promotes an integrated view of past interactive processes that lead to the problems which planning aims to rectify. The plan for the future becomes equally integrated: taking into account the motives and constraints of interactive stakeholders, it plots a realistic strategy for change anticipating the way future interactions might realistically be changed. Dynamic Planning is a way of appreciating the dynamics of world around us and the people involved in it. Once acquired, this outlook becomes second nature, improving the approach to any issues that may arise.

When assessing proposed plans, is it equally important to analyse who may experience the beneficial or adverse impacts of future changes. The tools for that are provided in the Community Impact Analysis method.

‘Active’ and ‘recipient’ stakeholders are part and parcel of both integrative methods. The result is a coherent and consistent approach to integrated planning for the management of change.

The integrated planning concept and both methods can be introduced through training to officers who lead planning and urban regeneration and to community leaders. A web or CD based tool kit could provide the techniques to all involved. Investment in tools and training for a sound concept and practice is an important addition to the Bill.

March 2011