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Public consultation: the common or the priority view?

7th February 2017

As a consultancy working across property and development sectors, we take a keen interest in changes in Government policy.

Alongside our clients, we have campaigned successfully for new or amended policy which aims to better reflect the changing needs of the communities that we live in.

In 2014, we made a breakthrough in having the Scottish government recognise the need for older people’s housing in Scottish Planning Policy.  For the first time, sheltered housing was included alongside other forms of specialised housing, and provisions set to help start the nation plan and build more.

An Independent Planning Review (IPR) last year concluded that a proactive approach to expanding homes for the elderly should be a priority and that more diverse housing types should be incentivised. And steps were taken forward to progress these, albeit not quite at a rate to match that of Scotland’s growing older population.

But has the Government’s commitment to continually review and update planning policy been too wide ranging? With so many views across such a diverse – and often fiercely opposed –  topic between developers and communities, how can policy be representative of everyone?

The publication of Scotland’s Planning White Paper, ‘People, Places and Planning’, last month made an attempt to acknowledge the views of over 390 responses from planners, developers and communities. In doing so, issues have been generalised, ideas clustered and broad ranging themes created to help lead the formation of the forthcoming Planning Bill.

In listening to the masses, it is easy to see how important issues that affect only sections of our population may become diluted. Indeed, in considering the IPR’s recommendations, the Planning White Paper has swept up consideration of older people’s housing within the broader brush of specialist housing, with only one fleeting mention of ‘including support for homes for the elderly’.  A far cry from the manifesto pledge and progress made to date.

In contrast, the UK Government’s Housing White Paper ‘Fixing our Broken Housing Market’, published today, commits to helping older people downsize while stimulating the housing market for families and first time buyers. Its plans for ‘Housing for our future population’ include better housing options for older people, near local services and help to tackle barriers to downsizing. Importantly it introduces a new statutory duty through the Neighbourhood Planning Bill to produce guidance for local planning authorities on how local development documents should meet these housing. These proposals will be welcome by many, but there will be other groups left feeling under-represented.

While industry broadly welcomes the Scottish Government’s Planning White Paper, which recognises the system must change and processes be simplified, it is clear there is always scope to include more. How it differentiates from the common issues put forward and prioritises others more urgently in need of action is something that will become apparent as the consultation process continues.  And perhaps, there could be some learning from both papers across the border.

Pagoda knows how complicated it can be representing public views through community consultation and we all know it is never going to be possible to please everyone all of the time, never mind represent the views of an entire nation. But, we look forward to continuing our work to successfully influence policy and give power to minority voices to be heard and fairly represented.