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How do we give people real influence in creating the places where they live?

Consultation is a formal requirement at every stage of the development process, from devising a Neighbourhood Plan through to approving a planning application. However ‘consultation’ is in reality no more than an obligation to inform and to acknowledge comment. By extending the ‘presumption in favour of development’, the National Planning Policy Framework will make it increasingly difficult for people to have a meaningful say in the developments that affect them. Few would argue about the need for more housing, but the onus is increasingly on communities to be proactive just to ensure they have a right to participate in planning decisions. By the end of 2016, only 200 councils had finanlised Neighbourhood Plans. 1900 (covering 10 million people) were in the pipeline, still leaving the vast majorty of communities without a democratically agreed plan.

Research has found a clear correlation between the control people feel they have over their lives and their well-being. This in turn produces social capital – the resource needed to prompt mutual support and collective action. Collaboration is the means to unlock this potential, yet the contribution to successful development and regeneration of harnessing people’s ideas and wishes is often overlooked. It would greatly benefit communities if the formal requirement to ‘consult’ became a requirement to ‘engage’ — an immersive process, whereby the impetus comes from within and engages a significant proportion of a community in a genuinely collaborative way.

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