Planning for the future

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A report in The Daily Telegraph yesterday, ‘outed’ a number of Councillors offering their services to property developers, ahead of changes to the planning laws at the end of this month.

The change will mean local authorities, which have not agreed a plan for development in their area, will be expected to approve applications which are deemed to be a sustainable development. This has concerned opponents as they believe it’s open to interpretation.

Groups including the National Trust, fear the changes will lead to ‘warfare’ in the countryside as a flood of applications are submitted for approval.

As part of The Telegraph’s report, they have focused on Councillors and companies who claim they can help to get plans approved on behalf of big businesses and developers. They also highlight some of the PR activity which may be carried out around certain planning applications.

According to the report, tricks of the trade include ‘accentuating the positive’, meeting councillors to discuss plans and sending out glossy brochures. It’s true to some extent, you only have to open a local newspaper these days to see multiple stories about plans being submitted – usually accompanied by a snazzy  artists’ impression – but it’s not all a one way street.

At the same time legislation has been changing, social media has also become much more powerful and widespread. The rise of sites such as Facebook and Twitter has empowered individuals and protest groups enormously, and there are a lot of savvy people out there who are taking full advantage to harness community power.

What that means is that developers and businesses submitting plans have had to up their game and ensure they are engaging effectively with local communities – or risk the wrath of people who may feel left in the dark about developments.

The rules are changing and we may well see a glut of developments being submitted at the end of the month, but I also think we will see a surge in the number of protest groups vocally objecting to plans online and making their feelings perfectly clear to developers, the wider public and the media.

That in turn, means more people signing petitions, and more newsworthy stories for local journalists to report – raising the debate about planning applications and helping to level the playing field and encourage debate.