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By Flora Samuel, Professor at the School of Architecture, University of Reading

*Flora Samuel talks to a local resident at a recent CCQOL Urban Room


Public participation in planning has clear social, environmental and economic benefits, but if it is to improve its inclusion and impact, the sector urgently needs a Code of Conduct. This is one of seven recommendations from Public participation in Planning in the UK, a groundbreaking review of research on participation, engagement and consultation in planning with a focus on the UK, with lessons applicable to other places.

This systematic review of the literature on public participation is a collaboration between the Arts and Humanities Research Council-funded Community Consultation for Quality of Life Project (CCQoL) and CACHE. It focuses on the UK since 2010, underlining the general lack of evidence on how public participation is practised, as well as delivering a series of recommendations for a policy and industry audience (below).

Subsequent phases of CCQoL will include recommendations for digital and face-to-face community consultation developed through experimental consultation spaces, called urban rooms, taking place in each of the four nations during the summer of 2022. The project is a collaboration with the Quality of Life Foundation, the digital platform Commonplace and Urban Symbiotics.

The review was guided by questions around how community consultation could:

  • be made more impactful and effective across the diverse policy contexts of the UK;
  • be made more representative and inclusive, including through e-participation
  • and form a long term project that fosters ongoing civic debate.

Below you will find seven key recommendations extracted from the longer report, published 29 April 2022:

  1. Establish a Code of Conduct/Practice

There needs to be a Code of Conduct/Practice for those involved in the public participation. Standards are particularly needed to ensure necessary levels of inclusion are achieved. This Code of Conduct needs to build on robust research knowledge of what works.

2. Make the process of determining planning applications more democratic

Currently communities have little or no say on the majority of planning decisions going through the planning system, particularly when delegated powers are used. Technical language, hostile settings and information imbalances all serve to increase public disenfranchisement. The planning appeal system itself originates from the post-war reconstruction era and is in need of review.

3. Leadership is needed to improve the democracy of planning.

Align participatory processes with governance frameworks Systems are needed to enable innovative participatory processes to feed into the planning process. Feedback loops need to be included in the participation process so the public can see where their input had impact. Real time digital maps could assist with this process.

4. Ensure equality of access to participatory processes

Current efforts in participation tend to favour privileged people and communities. Systems are needed that make participation easy and inclusive. Face to face and digital options are needed to help combat digital exclusion. All participatory processes need to be closely monitored in terms of equality and diversity.

5. Improve the quality of participatory processes

This requires stewardship. Consultations need to be designed to make engagement as easy and attractive as possible. Consultation should happen regularly across the development process in the form of a constant feedback loop. A blend of tools must be used to access different types of communities, including young people. These should draw on best practice in face to face and digital participation. The limits of what can be changed through the participation exercise must be clearly stated so that expectations remain realistic.

6. Provide a joined-up approach to place based participation

It is important to recognise that each public consultation, even if intended to be discrete, builds on the communities’ experience of consultation in that area and should build on information gathered during previous exercises. An ongoing participation log is needed for every community to check that the loop has been closed on previous consultations, to build on existing knowledge, to reduce consultation fatigue and to check that every community has had adequate opportunity to shape the future of its place.

7. Improve access to knowledge and skills

Improved access to well designed and high quality information about places as well as skills in place making, planning and advocacy are needed to enable a diverse cross section of people to participate in planning. This involves improving data gathering on what works for people in the making of places that promote quality of life.

Building on the findings in this literature review CCQoL plans to publish a series of reports on consultation in each of the diverse planning contexts of the four UK nations early in 2023.

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