The Raynsford Review: The Future of Planning

This week the review chaired by the Rt Hon Nick Raynsford published its full report looking at the issues which need to be tackled in order to create the planning system that England will need from 2020 onwards. A key theme which is explored by the report is the role that local communities play in the planning system and how they can shape development in their area. There were a number of clear findings outlined by the Raynsford Review, which include:

1. Lack of knowledge: The Review asserts that the evidence it received indicated that there is a general lack of awareness of who makes planning decisions, what rights people have to be involved and how they can access proposals. Interestingly, the Review states that the lack of knowledge within local communities as to how they can meaningfully engage in the planning process has generated a sense of anger about and mistrust of the planning system, which is acting as a barrier to meaningful debate about the future of communities. Whilst there is certainly a role for local authorities to play in raising awareness of the planning system and how residents can effectively engage in the planning process, there is clearly an opportunity for developers to use the pre-application consultation process to better inform local residents about the planning system more generally. By doing this, local communities are likely to have greater assurance in decision-making and they will have the confidence to meaningfully engage in the planning process.

2. Lost in translation: Another key theme of the evidence gathered by the Review highlighted that the complex language and procedures that shape planning decisions was a barrier to meaningful public engagement and often excluded non-professional input. What this serves to confirm is that communicating complex technical information in an understandable and accessible way is a vitally important part of engaging local communities, ensuring they feel part of the planning process and carrying out purposeful pre-application consultation. Understanding that local residents are often not versed in the intricacies of architecture or aware of the fine detail of drainage strategies should be a starting point for any pre-application consultation material, and sometimes a recognition that a wall of complex technical text at an exhibition event is likely to do very little to engage residents, and will more than likely have the opposite effect. We need to begin thinking more creatively about how we communicate information to communities and, importantly, begin to embrace the role which modern technology can play in this process.

3. More of the same: The evidence received by the Raynsford Review also highlights clear concerns about the quality and design of development, citing the feeling that new housing ‘all looks the same from Bristol to Bradford’. Linked closely to this was the view that the current system also failed to provide the proper supporting social facilities for infrastructure such as health and education. The issues over the design of new development and a lack of infrastructure are not new. However, there has clearly been a concerted effort by central government in recent years to address these concerns, with vast sums of money being provided for initiatives such as the Housing Infrastructure Fund and, more recently, the setting up of the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission. Initiatives like these are however longer term fixes, and will require time before any meaningful outcomes are seen.

It is difficult to disagree with one of the two key conclusions drawn by the Raynsford Review in relation to community engagement, which finds that the English planning system is defined by deep-seated mistrust and conflict between the key players and that it is as ‘at best bad tempered and ill-mannered and at worst like a pub brawl’. Rebuilding trust in the planning process is seen by the Review as a “vital objective” for future planning reform and as a way of both empowering local communities and ensuring that meaningful consultation and engagement can take place in order to foster better place-making and sustainable development in the future.

MPC specialises in pre-application consultation, community engagement and stakeholder communications. Our team has significant experience across a wide variety of development sectors and has significant experience and local knowledge based across all of our offices. If you would like to know more about the Raynsford Review or its findings on community engagement in the planning system, please get in touch with us via or call 0117 428 6873.

This article was written by Andy Hughes - Associate Director