Engaging with Development – do we always know what we need?

29 March 2017

I recently attended a ULI breakfast event which included a fascinating presentation by Jonathan Rose on his book The Well-Tempered City and questions from the floor being answered by Jonathan, Baroness Couttie and Jeremy Newsum. In response to one of those questions, Jeremy commented that we often vote for the opposite of what we know we need.

Whilst that sounded odd at first, I could see his point, illustrated brilliantly by an example of people voting for the promise of lower taxes despite wishing that infrastructure funding would come forward. 

If we are not engaged with a plan or strategy that works for us and we believe will be delivered (if not in our time then for future generations) we are less minded to think about the "greater good" and act collaboratively, and more likely to rebel. Just look at some of the recent 'unexpected' election results in the UK and elsewhere.  

From my position as a planning lawyer, often working with developers on residential-led schemes, it made me think about how public engagement is sought and encouraged. 

With developers being alive to really positive issues such as place-making, promoting health and well-being and sustainability, is more/better engagement the key to getting greater public backing to development? If so, whilst this is and should certainly be done at the individual scheme level, talk in this breakfast event was of a much larger, more strategic position, with cities having 50 year plans highlighting not only the new high-rise development which might be needed to meet future (if not current) demands, but also the protection of parkland and the historic places of interest that make an area distinct. 

The panel commented that the message should be that "we're all in this together". If everyone had confidence that there is something in the plan for them – whether it be the chance of a better education or other opportunities – shouldn't it be easier for a 'well-tempered' city to meet expanding needs? 

The need for community involvement and public consultation will not be new to developers or local authorities of course but it is interesting to think about the different levels at which engagement could occur. Do we have too many layers of government? Are neighbourhood plans helping to achieve greater engagement? What about regional strategies? All interesting questions which I am grateful to ULI for bringing back to the front of my mind. 

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