In the context of the work on neighbourhood plans currently underway in England – where local communities get the power to write a strategic plan for their area – it’s interesting to see some similar thinking going on in Australia. There’s an independent review of planning law underway in New South Wales, which has received many submissions that suggest more community involvement at strategic level, but less on individual developments.
It’s worth saying that neighbourhood planning in England is not intended to reduce public involvement in individual developments. However, the comments of consultation expert Matthew Crozier on the Bang the Table blog are still relevant. He suggests, as we have often said here at Demsoc, that community strategic planning is one of the most difficult tasks of local government, and engaging people to make a positive contribution in something quite theoretical will be hard. Here’s an extract:
Strategic planning is a real skill – some might say and art. It’s something that there are university degrees dedicated to. This is because it’s hard. It’s hard to project forward, it’s hard to envisage the implications of major long terms changes to our surroundings and it’s hard to understand the language of strategic planning – ever tried reading an LEP? I can see why some might like a world where the ‘community say’ is dealt with in one go and then the technocrats make the decisions. I think that would be an effective cloak for cutting the community out of planning decisions.
In reality the community are far more given to responding to shorter term visceral issues. Things that are actually going to impact on their lives. […] Listening carefully to the community on [the whole range of public] issues rather than just during the bureaucratic process of preparing a strategic planning document will arm planners with the ammunition they need to see off the vested interest groups and actually reflect community needs in their decisions.