GETTING INVOLVED IN PLANNING Perceptions of the Wider Public
CHAPTER TWO: RESEARCH FINDINGS
2.1 This chapter presents the overall research findings resulting from the analysis and comparison of the data from the 6 individual case study areas (Highland, Scottish Borders, West Lothian, North Ayrshire, Glasgow and Stirling), leading to general conclusions and recommendations in the following chapter. These general findings are organised according to the source of information and by theme, as is explained below.
2.2 Prior to presenting the overall findings, a summary of the findings of the telephone poll is included to provide a national context of initiatives in participation in planning. These relate to initiatives that local authority planning officers consider they have provided for the public - and their assessment of barriers to participation. The telephone poll was responded to by 18 of the 32 local authorities in Scotland and was used to inform the research for selection of case study areas. As explained previously, case studies were selected partially on the basis of the existence of different forms of initiative and best practice in this.
2.3 As interviews with the involved and uninvolved often took place after displays and community workshops in the case study areas (as explained earlier in the methods section), the feedback from the displays/workshops is described in the subsequent section, prior to the overall findings from the interviews.
2.4 These initiatives are then further explored through summaries of in-depth interviews with the planners in the case study areas, permitting a deeper understanding of the context for the perceptions of the planning process by the involved and uninvolved within these areas.
2.5 Perceptions are then summarised, drawing on interviews with the involved and uninvolved. The structure for reporting on the findings from the fieldwork with involved and uninvolved follows key issues defined in the research objectives:
- Characteristics of the involved and uninvolved
- Forms of involvement in general and in specific innovations
- Perceived barriers to involvement
- Factors facilitating involvement
Other issues raised.
2.6 Given the nature of the in-depth case study approach, it is important to note that the views expressed are of a relatively small number who participated in each case study area, and that in each, the research focussed around one or two settlements only. These views should therefore be seen as illustrative rather than representative.
2.7 Additional responses collected via the website are subsequently reported, these not being linked to the case study approach.
2.8 Finally a short set of key conclusions arising from the research findings is presented, acting as a link to the general Conclusions and Recommendations. A summary list of factors facilitating involvement in planning identified by the participants is also included in Appendix IV.
SUMMARY OF THE TELEPHONE POLL8
2.9 This section reports on the findings of the telephone poll involving 18 of the 32 local authorities in Scotland.
Extent of innovation in public participation in planning
2.10 The telephone poll revealed that planning authorities (PAs) were involved in, and had expended considerable effort on, a variety of activities encouraging greater public participation over and above their statutory responsibilities. For some of the smaller PAs, with limited capacity, there was little scope to take on new initiatives. These PAs have therefore tended to concentrate activity on streamlining internal processes and on expedited procedures to free up time for consultation.
2.11 Those involved in promoting participation in development plans and development control highlighted the need to balance enhanced participation with requirements to meet targets and performance expectations. Some PAs were sceptical that the 2 could be reconciled, but were striving to do so in any event. There was general recognition that there has to be a balance between speed and quality of participation. However, as one respondent remarked, there also has to be recognition that "planning outcomes last a long time on the ground". An additional consideration was the need to balance genuinely representative views with those of individual property owners.
Innovation around development plans
2.12 A number of PAs had experimented with a range of participation techniques and/or had adapted these techniques based on previous experience. Motivation was based on prior negative experiences associated with the traditional public meeting. Planners generally found traditional approaches to be relatively unproductive and that they tended to involve the " usual suspects". They highlighted the potential for meetings to become dominated by more vocal members and to be taken over by competing factions. In these circumstances, workshops were preferred as a means of taking the 'heat' out of potentially conflictive situations.
2.13 There was some discussion of techniques and a tendency to favour more deliberative activities that encourage people to consider issues and provide feedback of a positive nature. Five PAs advocated the workshop technique. In Moray, for example, this involved an initial training session for planning officers at the outset of the consultation process. It was felt that workshops were easier to manage and less confrontational than the conventional public meeting.
2.14 In undertaking this technique, the importance of process and the need to locate such activities within a planned programme of consultation were highlighted. For example, Midlothian Council's consultation on the South East Wedge involved a significant land release for 3,500-4,000 houses in the green belt. Given the potential for conflict, Midlothian embarked on an intensive consultation process, which lasted over a 2-year period. An important consideration was the need to get communities on board. In doing so, planners presented communities with a simple message as one planner described: " We have to deal with all this housing, the trick is to put it all in the right place" and that releases had to be planned in an appropriate way. The importance of providing feedback was highlighted. Planning officers involved believe that the consultation process reduced the number of objections, with the majority of these submitted by developers. Planning for Real 9 proved popular with 4 PAs. Others, such as Stirling, undertook a mail drop to every property with an easy-to-read version of an issues paper with an attached questionnaire. The mail shot was followed up with workshops and Planning for Real exercises on issues such as housing growth.
2.15 2 PAs ran consultations on the structure plan and local plan in parallel. This had implications in terms of workload, but it was felt that this helped people see the linkages between the two. The impetus in Moray, for example, was partly influenced by prior experience in consulting on the local plan and a perception that communities felt "short changed" having missed the opportunity to engage in the previous structure plan. Others (e.g. West Lothian, North Ayrshire) structured consultation on development plans around Community Planning themes to ensure consistency and avoid consultation fatigue.
2.16 A small number of PAs experimented with variations in neighbour notification on development plans as a means of raising awareness. For example, West Lothian and Aberdeenshire Councils prepared Development Briefs, in those areas that were not covered by the development plan, on which consultation was carried out. North Ayrshire Council notified properties adjoining areas where a significant change in land use allocation was proposed. In doing so, PAs utilised the same criteria for notifying neighbours on planning applications.
2.17 Two authorities highlighted community involvement in Master Planning exercises as an effective means of engaging the public. For example, Falkirk Council consulted local communities via workshops in the preparation of the Planning Brief for the development of a former hospital site, leading to a Master Plan. Glasgow City Council has employed a variety of techniques to engage local communities and raise aspirations in the development of Master Plans for the regeneration and development of New Neighbourhoods, including the use of computer modelling techniques.
2.18 Other PAs have been involved in training and capacity building initiatives such as Planning Aid Scotland's CLEAR (Community Awareness Raising) Project. The results of such activities were not immediately apparent but officers anticipated that participation would lead to an improvement in the quality of submissions in the long term. The dynamic nature of community activity and turnover in membership required recognition of, and a commitment to, training as part of a continuous process. As one respondent put it, " training for groups such as community councils is like painting the Forth Rail Bridge - you have to keep going back to the beginning". Others such as Aberdeenshire and Highland Councils encouraged community councils to take 'ownership' of the consultation process, involving them in the organisation and facilitation of meetings within their local area. In Aberdeenshire, officers organised a training session with interested community councillors on how to organise such meetings and provided a pack which included publicity materials. In Highland, the advantages of involving community councils were that they were more likely to secure local publicity and " drum up" local interest.
2.19 Enhancing participation, however, can have implications in terms of the number of objections generated. While some PAs argued that participation early on in the process reduced the number of objections received later on, at least one PA felt that the large numbers of objections delayed the process, resulting in a loss of momentum.
Innovation in development control
2.20 The main areas of innovation in development control amongst those PAs questioned involved meetings with key stakeholders, including agents and house-builders, to update them on the latest 'hot' topics. Others, such as Angus and Argyll & Bute Councils, have planning surgeries in the main towns where officers go out and members of the public can come in and discuss current applications. The approach seems to work well and is relatively cost effective in areas not well served by public transport, although the level of interest generated depended upon the application under consideration. These sessions can be on a one-to-one basis with an individual on a particular application or involve a standing arrangement with community councils and amenity groups covering a range of applications.
2.21 Considerable variation existed in whether members of the public are allowed to speak at committee. Some PAs send copies of reports to objectors and applicants in advance, while others prepare procedure notes on what to expect to help "demystify the process". Others, (e.g. East Lothian Council) allow third parties to call for site visits where they are permitted to address members. Fife Council takes this a step further and can call a hearing if a development is contrary to the development plan and the number of objections warrants this.
2.22 The use of Information & Communications Technology (ICT) was another area of innovation in development control. For example, Stirling Council posted weekly recommendations on the council's web site. Under expedited procedures, councillors and officers can request that applications be heard at committee. This approach also allows community councils and members of the public to contact their local councillor or officers. This was considered to be an effective means of engaging the public without adding to delays in decision-making.
2.23 On major developments and potentially controversial applications, particularly those involving the council as developer, public meetings can be organised to help raise public awareness early on in the planning process. Planning officers in the Western Isles adopted this approach when dealing with the issue of. causeway links between islands.
2.24 A number of PAs, particularly rural and dispersed areas, already have decentralised structures. Others have experimented with decentralisation as part of the 'modernising' agenda. This included administrative decentralisation through area offices, or political decentralisation through area committee structures or forums where the majority of planning matters are dealt with at the local level (e.g. Fife, Highland, Scottish Borders and Argyll & Bute Councils).
2.25 The extent to which area committees and forums engaged with planning issues varied and opinions were split regarding their effectiveness in bringing planning closer to people. While some PAs have used these forums proactively (e.g. presenting early drafts of schemes for comment) and recognised that planning could play an important role in the development of these forums, some officers had concerns regarding their impact on the use of limited staff resources. Others suggested that decentralised settings could reinforce a tendency for local views to dominate at the expense of the wider strategic overview and emphasised the need to balance local concerns with national issues. Highland Council addressed this by dealing with all major applications and those of strategic significance centrally. Others have 'call in' arrangements in place to guard against parochial tendencies. It was also suggested that area structures can reinforce tendencies for local considerations to unduly influence councillors' positions. One way round this was through councillor training (e.g. Renfrewshire and East Dunbartonshire Councils).
2.26 It was suggested that, providing opportunities for members of the public to speak at such forums (e.g. through open forums and question and answer sessions) raised public expectations of receiving an appropriate answer. As such, there was a tendency for local authorities to 'load' area forums with officers, which in turn could be intimidating and counterproductive. It was further suggested that such mechanisms did little to remove the potential for confrontation inherent in these situations. Some planning officers were keen to keep decisions on planning away from area committees entirely, particularly on development control matters as such forums were seen to be less efficient than other mechanisms.
2.27 A number of PAs have experimented with consumer surveys and focus groups as part of Best Value reviews. For example, Angus Council has utilised the 'Servequal' technique, as proposed by the Accounts Commission, as a means of assessing customers' views and matching this to performance. The resulting gap, thereby, gives an indication of issues to be addressed. East Lothian Council is looking to undertake forthcoming reviews based on the principles behind CoSLA's Enforcement Concordat. They intend to take a co-ordinated council-wide view, as far as the legislation covering different policy areas allows, leading to the adoption of common procedures between departments and ensuring that citizens receive a consistent level of service. Edinburgh City Council is developing its IT infrastructure around its Corporate Services Model, which it is anticipated, will lead to a more efficient use of information within the council as well as ensuring that the public receives a consistent level of service no matter what channel they use.
2.28 Although not directly related to Best Value, a number of councils have developed service charters or Customer Quality Charters on various aspects of the planning services. For example, Edinburgh City Council has a range of charters covering development control, development plans, enforcement, street naming and access to information, which have been developed with customer focus groups, comprising a range of stakeholders including community groups. The City of Edinburgh Council developed a best practice pack, through its Corporate Working Group, which provides advice to all staff on how information should be presented as well as techniques that can be used.
2.29 A number of planning officers highlighted differences in the nature of the planning customer compared to other service users and that there was a need to differentiate between the quality of service provided and satisfaction with the outcome (i.e. planning decision). The need to identify appropriate indicators, measuring quality of services provided, was also emphasised.
Information and Communications Technology (ICT)
2.30 A significant proportion of planning authorities had invested considerable resources in developing ICT initiatives as a means of ensuring that information is available and accessible. A survey of all local authorities undertaken by Dundee City Council for the E-Planning Group in April 2001 (unpublished), found that the majority of local authority web sites contained planning information and were planning expansion in the near future. Development plans were available or downloadable from 11 LA web sites, the weekly list of planning applications was on line on 9 web sites and application forms could be down loaded from 7 web sites. The following additional information was made available:
- general information including contact details (2);
- planning handbook (2);
- Advice Notes (4);
- committee agendas, reports and minutes (4);
- policy documents (2);
- Development Control Charters (2) and FAQs (1);
- Housing Land Audit (1);
- Listed Building d-base (1);
- enforcement map-based area focus information;
- planning appeals guidelines (1);
- search facility for planning applications 3km of postcode (1);
- maps with interactive functionality (1).
2.31 Interviews with planning officers in the phone poll also found that some councils have focussed activity on improving internal sharing of information (e.g. intranet). In at least one case, an initiative designed to enhance co-ordination within planning pre-empted initiatives to develop the council's wider intranet service. Others have a clear idea of what they want to do and have carried out preliminary work but are constrained by available technology.
2.32 Officers stated that while IT development often involved a long gestation period and diverted staff resources from core business, there were considerable gains to be made in providing "unparalleled access" to information previously unavailable to members of the public. In general, PAs recognised the internet's potential as a means of reaching the 'silent majority', although it was recognised that this needs to be complemented by other means of ensuring effective exchange of views and continued dialogue. Others were sensitive to inclusion issues in terms of access to technology and emphasised that ICT initiatives are only one mechanism which should be nested within wider council-wide consultation strategies.
2.33 The poll found that much of the information provided to date was read-only and relatively few PAs had experimented with interactive sites. Investment in appropriate hardware and software and access to IT support were significant considerations in planning future development. In addition, a number of PAs had concerns regarding the legality of electronic submission and copyright issues. Guidance was also sought on the weight to be given to non-local objections (e.g. from as far afield as Canada/New Zealand) and the "policing of biased" material. The status of e-mail objections to development plans was queried, especially at Inquiry stage. The implications of diverting valuable staff resources to develop IT initiatives were also identified. As one officer put it: "For every step you take, it knocks you back in terms of performance for about a year...the weight of the system just wears you down". To get round this problem, Edinburgh City Council has out-sourced its ICT development to a private provider.
2.34 It was generally recognised that Community Planning had potential in leading the development of more inclusive approaches. A number of PAs cited examples of various partnership initiatives involving community representatives and suggested that this form the basis of Community Planning " from the bottom-up". However, the indication from the telephone poll was that Community Planning initiatives are at an early stage of development and considerable progress has been made in working along key stakeholders. Call centres or contact centres, such as that currently being considered by Edinburgh City Council, had been discussed by a small number of authorities, but had not progressed beyond this to any great extent.
2.35 A small number of PAs were involved in specific initiatives to target particularly excluded groups. It was acknowledged that those more likely to engage tended to be the "enthusiastic elderly". In addition, the public's level of expertise and motivation varied between PA areas. While some PAs had highly educated and interested populations who got "very involved", others found it more difficult to engage the general public. While those with highly motivated populations welcomed involvement, the implications of sustaining such a high level of interest had to be considered alongside impact on performance.
2.36 Planning officers recognised that young people were particularly excluded, as participation processes tend to be orientated towards the older perspective. Some, such as Stirling Council, have utilised existing structures, such as Youth Forums and youth congresses, where they exist to engage young people. A small proportion of PAs had attempted to engage school age children, with varying degrees of success. The need to involve primary school children as future citizens most affected has to be tempered by recognition of the extent of their knowledge. North Ayrshire Council, for example, has set up links with secondary schools via the council's Education Department. It is anticipated that reinforcing such linkages will promote awareness of land use planning amongst young people, but has wider implications in terms of citizenship. One idea currently being discussed is inviting young people to consider the best way of engaging the wider public.
2.37 Planning officers also recognised potential exclusion resulting from a planning system that continues to serve 'the haves' (i.e. those that have access) as opposed to the 'have-nots'. A number of PAs have piloted initiatives designed to target specific groups. For example, planning officers in Fife are available to visit the housebound if required and monitor service provision and usage by ethnic minorities at a council-wide level.
2.38 In some cases, there was a clear corporate imperative driving council-wide approaches to enhanced participation e.g. Stirling Council, North Ayrshire Council. A number of PAs had tapped into wider council processes, 'piggy backing' on initiatives developed by other departments. For example, Aberdeenshire, Borders, Moray and Stirling Councils had focussed on developing the capacity of existing community councils and in promoting their formation in areas where they did not exist. Engaging community groups early on in the process was seen to be useful in raising local awareness and pre-empting potentially controversial applications. Others, such as the City of Glasgow Council, utilised the Citizens' Panel as a means of providing a snapshot of opinion, which helped inform the council's priorities for expenditure on heritage and the built environment.
Planning officers' perceptions of public participation
Motivation for promoting participation
2.39 The need to engage the public was linked by some to disillusionment within the profession generally. Continual negative publicity, combined with confrontational public meetings, led to an atmosphere of high emotion and outright aggression in some instances. Planning officers referred to examples of "planner bashing" and there was some sense of resentment that planning had become "society's whipping boy".
2.40 Those PAs that had invested in initiatives to enhance participation did so because they felt that it led to improved decision-making. One of the key benefits cited was that of enhanced ownership. It was argued that, once people get involved in the policy formulation stage, they then gain a sense of responsibility and share in some of the more difficult planning decisions that face local authorities. That communities should have a stake in the planning process was considered to be right and proper - "they can't all put their heads in the sand". It was felt that participation in planning had wider benefits including public ownership of their own environment linked to wider citizenship issues. Enhanced participation and greater public ownership of planning outcomes, in turn enabled politicians to feel more at ease with the decision-making process in the knowledge that plans had been through a proper process of consultation. It was felt that enhanced involvement assisted elected members in taking informed decisions.
2.41 One of the negative implications of enhanced consultation cited was that it can generate a substantial amount of objections. This can result in problems once a plan reaches Inquiry stage, with objectors disappearing or "melting away", which is frustrating for planning officers in terms of staff time invested in preparing evidence. As one planning officer put it:
"Enhanced participation is fine but you need to find a way of avoiding the time wasters, those who just want to moan, and to ensure that those involved are bona fide as opposed to fly by night types."
Stage at which participation is valued
2.42 The general consensus amongst planning officers was that involving the public earlier in the process led to more effective decision-making. However, reconciling aspirations with what actually happens on the ground was more difficult to achieve.
2.43 The majority of PAs felt that participation in the development plan was a priority, given its primacy. Those responding also felt that enhanced participation in development plans was important as this established the overall framework, which help guide development and against which decisions on planning applications were determined. However, while planning officers sought public involvement at the issues stage, in practice they found that the public tended to get more involved in the details or were interested in specific planning applications - "people tend not to get involved unless it affects their own back yard". At this stage, it was argued, much of the policy context had been set and there was less scope to alter the plan's strategic direction and key priorities.
2.44 Other PAs felt that the day-to-day interface with the public in development control was more important. One PA felt that public involvement in Best Value reviews was valuable in providing feedback and improving services provided. Those supporting this position argued that public involvement in development plans was cyclical in nature, only requiring participation at specific stages in the process. Others felt that public participation in development plans and development control was equally important. As one respondent put it:
"Development control is more about day-to-day participation, whereas development plans are about participation every couple of years. In both we are trying to engage people."
2.45 Other planning officers felt that there was a need to meet with community groups on an annual basis so as to encourage a more continuous dialogue. One PA had a regular arrangement with community councils but for others this was more of an aspiration than a reality, the key barrier being staff time involved. Another PA had invested considerable time and effort on enhancing their development control performance to meet targets. However, it was conceded that the skewing of resources has had negative implications for development plans in terms of reduced staff resources, which could have long term consequences for the built and natural environment.
2.46 A number of planning officers referred to wider policy debates on how to improve the efficiency of development plans. Cutting back on consultation was considered to be a retrograde step, as participation in setting the development framework is valued. Those holding this view highlighted the importance of ownership of the plan as necessary for implementation - "a local development plan that is not complied with is no good to anyone". The commitment of key partners was viewed as critical in ensuring public credibility in the plan. One PA suggested that efficiency savings could be made elsewhere in the process, particularly at Inquiry stage, in terms of legal fees and time. It was felt that, where consultation had been carried out in a systematic way, Public Local Inquiries (PLIs) were unnecessary, as they tend to go over the same ground.
2.47 A related issue concerned late or non-involvement of statutory consultees, which can lead to formal objections that repeat arguments presented earlier in the consultation process. It was suggested that PLIs provide powerful interested groups (e.g. house-builders) with a second chance, while those affected by changes do not have the opportunity to participate due to legal fees. It was further suggested that PLIs do not change the plan in any significant way in that the policy thrust is decided early on in the plan's development. As an alternative, it was suggested that the Reporter carry out an audit of consultation, thereby aligning local plan processes with that for structure plans, with sanctions for those planning authorities who have not been seen to have carried out consultation. Controversial issues arising could then be dealt with through an Enquiry in Public. However, it was suggested that this option only be considered where an issue is significant enough to merit detailed consideration.
Barriers to participation
2.48 The following barriers were highlighted:
"It is not easy for groups to take part in Inquiries and it then becomes a very legalistic and intimidating process".
- Decisions reached that are not in accordance with the development plan undermine public credibility in the participation process and do little to reinforce public confidence in the planning process generally.
The way forward
2.49 Possible improvements suggested by officers are discussed below.
2.50 There was recognition that the presentation of planning issues was critical. Planning consultation and structuring events around topical issues or issues of interest to people helped to make planning relevant to the public. While no PA had deliberately included controversial issues, it was recognised that this was an effective way of generating interest. Some PAs had experimented with alternative media. For example, Midlothian Council prepared a video which they used as an introduction supplemented by slide presentations tailored to each area. The importance of conveying an up-beat message and of involving others (including non-planners), who may present a contrary viewpoint, helped to engender interest.
2.51 Others had employed less costly but effective techniques. For example, in its structure plan consultation, Fife Council held a prize draw, with gifts donated by national and local businesses. The consultation generated 300 responses, which was an improvement on past exercises; however, planning officers were unable to determine whether this was as a direct result of the provision of an incentive. The exercise was also useful in generating heightened media attention and positive publicity. Highland Council also worked alongside the local press in preparing articles in addition to traditional public notices.
2.52 The use of maps helps to draw people in although, initially, the focus is on "where's my house?" However, it was claimed that within a relatively short period of time, people begin to look at other issues including policies affecting their local area. It was felt that maps provided members of the public with the stepping stones that enable them to progress from the particular to the general or wider strategic context. This was an approach adopted by planning officers within the former Gordon District. In preparing the current local plan, officers found that those who had been through the previous process were " more keyed in" and were beginning to turn their attention to the structure plan. Once capacity has had a chance to develop, planners hope to incorporate their involvement into a rolling programme of participation.
2.53 Some PAs had employed external consultants to undertake participation exercises on the council's behalf. However, cost was a key consideration. Others had employed consultants and later adapted techniques to events subsequently run in-house. While some felt that in-house facilitation was satisfactory, others were sensitive to the phasing of the development plan process. For example, West Lothian Council is currently considering independent facilitation once the Plan is adopted so officers are not involved in defending policy recommendations. Some PAs saw a role for Planning Aid for Scotland (PAS) in providing independent facilitation, but recognise the resource limitations under which PAS, as a voluntary organisation, operates. These PAs supported proposals within the consultation paper for additional support for Planning Aid.
2.54 Other planning officers felt that opportunities to build upon participation and enthusiasm engendered via existing initiatives around e.g. urban forestry and bio-diversity could be better exploited. Edinburgh City Council, for instance, has been involved in extensive discussion with communities in developing Conservation Area Character Appraisals. This has been seen to be an effective mechanism in that community groups and various amenity groups have undertaken a lot of the work that would normally be carried out by the planning authority. In doing so, these local groups have gained ownership of the process. Community groups in the Western Isles have taken this a step further. Building upon consultation around Port of Entry schemes, community companies have been set up to implement resulting Action Plans. Others highlighted the potential to link into groups active in other policy areas, e.g. housing associations, tenants and residents associations.
2.55 PAs are involved in a variety of activities over and above their statutory responsibilities. Many of these are innovative and have been developed in response to the failure of previous traditional techniques in a genuine effort to engage the public. These included:
- Innovation around development plans;
- Innovation in development control;
- Area committees/forums;
- Best Value;
- Information and Communications Technology (ICT);
- Other initiatives including Community Planning.
2.56 Officers generally felt that participation early in the planning process led to more effective decision-making. However, day-to-day contact between Departments and the wider public was also valued. Officers were acutely aware of the barriers facing members of the public and initiatives were designed to address these to some extent.
2.57 The case study approach allowed a more in-depth assessment of the views of planning officers of barriers and factors facilitating participation. These are summarised and discussed below and are compared alongside the views of the public, both those that have been involved and more importantly those that such initiatives have not reached. The findings from the interactive displays and workshops are presented initially.
2.58 This section reports on the findings from the interactive displays and workshops held within the 6 individual case study areas (Highland, Scottish Borders, West Lothian, North Ayrshire, Glasgow and Stirling). The displays were exhibited in 20 venues across the 6 case study areas and 3 workshops were held in total.
Summary of input from displays
2.59 The interactive displays helped the researchers in the initial identification of the views of the public on barriers to and factors facilitating involvement, as well as views on existing procedures for public participation in the 6 case study areas.
2.60 Overwhelmingly, the barrier to involvement that was most often identified through the displays was the perception that the views of the public are not taken into account by planning authorities (PAs). This was linked to perceptions that PAs have their own agendas, that decisions are taken by "the powers that be" before consultation, and that "developers get their own way".
2.61 Another important area of concern was access to information and assistance, including problems with neighbour notification. In particular, the problem of lack of information for people with limited command of English was noted by minority ethnic respondents in Glasgow.
2.62 The third set of factors inhibiting involvement was related to personal circumstances amongst the public, including lack of time to participate, apathy and the perception of not being directly affected.
2.63 The 2 factors facilitating involvement most often mentioned were the provision of information and feedback. Improved information included better and more comprehensive publicity (notifying "everyone" was suggested), as well as tailoring information to particular groups such as ethnic minorities. Media and minutes were suggested as means for PAs to provide feedback.
2.64 Other factors suggested were wide-ranging, and included: user-friendly meetings at appropriate times; opportunities to e-mail named individuals; site visits and public meetings for developments over a certain size; greater transparency from the PA; and a long term plan.
2.65 In total, across the 6 case study areas, 59% of the respondents indicated that they thought the procedures for public involvement as described on the displays ( see Appendix II) were insufficient. Only in Highland was the response favourable to existing procedures, with 65% seeing these as sufficient. In the other case studies, the percentage of respondents unsatisfied with current opportunities for public involvement ranged from 50% to 75%.
2.66 Reasons for dissatisfaction included: short response time-scales; difficult access to copies of plans in rural areas; planning staff being "out of touch with reality" and providing 'wrong' information; the need for specialist knowledge and advice to write objections; the over-representation of the well educated middle class in representations; the dependence of Inquiry outcomes on the quality of the QC available; confusing procedures; lack of provision for those whose first language is not English; and the local authority having its own agenda. Suggestions to ameliorate this included: public consultation before an application was submitted; guidelines for the public on how to write objections; more public-friendly policy documents; and a fuller range of procedures allowing involvement. Some of the issues and recommendations expressed through the interactive displays were also discussed in the community workshops, as follows.
Summary of input from workshops
2.67 Results from the interactive displays were used to stimulate discussion in community workshops held in 2 of the 6 case study areas: West Lothian and Stirling ( for participants see paragraph 1.24). These workshops raised issues on, and made recommendations for, public involvement in planning.
2.68 In both community workshops, concern was expressed over the short timescales for response. This was linked to a perception of consultation as "cosmetic", starting too late and not being continuous enough.
2.69 Both workshops revealed negative perceptions of councils and planning officers. There was a perception of lack of transparency and accountability due to the pressures on councils to generate income - e.g. through the sale of council assets - which were seen to affect council planning decisions. In one workshop, planning officers were not seen to represent the public as they are unelected. In addition, some perceived them as being "not trustworthy" and favourable towards companies. Both workshops raised concern over the lack of consistency in the application of planning policy.
2.70 Apathy was a key problem raised in one workshop. Participants reported that this led to few people engaging, even when directly affected by specific issues. Community councils also faced this problem, in particular when trying to engage young people.
2.71 Access to information was another major concern. Participants in the workshop felt that there is generally a lack of information, and that the use of technical language was a barrier. They thought that there was a need for liaison personnel at the Planning Department.
2.72 Other issues discussed included the perception that there was a lack of feedback from planning officers, the influence of party politics or individuals on the relationship between community councils and local councillors, and the lack of third party rights of appeal.
2.73 Finally, there were mixed views on the role of the Scottish Executive. In one workshop concern was raised over centrally driven housing allocations in development plans, while in the other a positive view of the role of the Scottish Executive Reporter as an independent outsider was expressed. In the latter workshop, the support of MPs and MSPs on planning issues was also viewed positively.
2.74 The recommendations emerging from the workshops, which were put forward by participants, are summarised as follows:
- There is a need to break public apathy, e.g. through providing feedback and making people feel that their opinion is valued.
- There is a need for greater involvement, with more continuous consultation and with more time given to it, starting earlier, and with specific feedback.
- Councils need to publicise what is happening using media and directly contacting groups.
- Planning officers should use simpler language e.g. using plain English and avoiding technical language.
- Planning could be part of the school programme to prepare students for life after school.
- Councils should be especially accountable regarding developments where they have a vested interest.
- The Scottish Executive, as well as planning authorities, should explain their activities.
- Local government should be responsive to community councils.
- There should be more transparency, accountability and consistency in local government.
2.75 Some of the concerns and suggestions identified through the displays and workshops have been addressed by planning authorities in the case study areas. The interviews with planning officers, the involved and the uninvolved allow a more in-depth exploration of these concerns and ideas presented.