In the August 2017 issue of The Planner magazine (RTPI’s main publication), Sue Manns who is a Regional Director in our Birmingham office comments on the history of public engagement in planning across the West Midlands. Sue is a former National Planner for Planning Aid England and is the author of the RTPI/Planning Aid Good Practice Guide to Public Engagement in Development Projects.
The below is a full reprint of her interview:
The West Midlands has a long history of public engagement in planning; for example, Planning Aid was founded there in 1973.
We have great examples of how engagement can inspire communities and excite them. The Balsall Heath Neighbourhood Plan (a deprived inner-city area of Birmingham) attracted almost 2,230 votes and over 89 percent support.
By contrast, a more ‘traditional’ consultation for the Birmingham pre-submission plan attracted 1,524 responses from a population of one million people, with many objections relating to the development in the green belt. Sutton Coldfield MP Andrew Mitchell was instrumental in getting the government to put the plan on hold – but did this action really reflect the views of most of his constituents, or those of Birmingham as a whole?
Humans are programmed to resist change; in recent years we have been allowing those most likely to resist change to dominate the discussion. Most of those engaging in planning are over 55; under-35s are often absent. Response rates to pre-application consultations are typically around 3 percent of those consulted directly. They are even lower for local plan consultations.
Yet, vital decisions on the future of our region’s villages, towns and cities are based upon this respondent profile. Would any other organisation do this? The economy is ‘hotting up’. There is a need for people of all ages and from all parts of the region to join the wider conversation about the shape and feel of the West Midlands as a place to live and work. We need to excite people in planning and the decisions that need to be taken if the region is to get ‘ahead of the curve’, and the appointment of a mayor who can open up this conversation is a great starting point.
To learn more about our public engagement work, please contact Sue Manns on 0121 308 9570 or firstname.lastname@example.org