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Budget blog: the opposite of attrition is trust

The Budget has committed the government to deliver 300,000 new homes a year within this Parliament. To do this, government - central and local - will continue to rely on a mix of public investment and market mechanisms. It also announced its intention to review "The Planning System" to reduce bottlenecks. We think that restoring public and stakeholder trust in planning is the biggest opportunity that needs to be grasped.

Government perceives that the planning system is holding up development and hence the throughput on new homes. I'd suggest that there are three components to how the planning system impacts on throughput:

  • capacity
  • regulation
  • trust

Capacity is the supply of enough capable, experienced professionals in the system to process applications and negotiate with developers.

Regulation is the amount of secondary purposes that a planning authority wishes to achieve through development, and aspects that government requires local planners to consider. Some of these are standard and expressed in codes, but many are negotiable - the proportion of social housing in developments being an obvious example.

And then there is Trust. In the planning system trust matters because the opposite of trust is attrition. If planners, developers or politicians are not trusted, developments are opposed implicitly; negativity becomes the default. Even if you solve all issues with capacity and managing compliance with regulation, lack of trust can still immobilise the housing throughput.

How do you engender trust? For council led projects, local democracy is designed to do this. If you don’t trust your politicians you can campaign to replace them.

However, with the mixed private-public arrangements required to deliver most major projects, placing trust is more difficult. The Budget commits £400 million to estate regeneration, which will be used to leverage private sector investment in joint ventures. In these cases leadership structures are more opaque and contracts can bind councils for longer than a single term of office. You can remove the politician, but the deal remains.

So while mass provision of new homes is popular, overcoming local objections requires leadership and trust. Yet the delivery mechanisms itself can erode trust and so become self-defeating. The democratic deficit that may be justifiable given the scale of the task, but it must be mitigated.

The Commonplace approach to mitigating the democratic deficit is through "Transparent Trust" - using 21st Century tools to engage as many local people as possible in the changes to their built environment. This shifts the emphasis from the delivery mechanism to the shaping of what will be delivered. With the right level of transparency, trust can be built and rebuilt and even controversial changes can become more accepted. We saw an example of this through Commonplace's involvement in Waltham Forest [link to Case Study], which embarked on a radical programme of changing highways and streets to enable easier and safer pedestrian and cycle movements in town centres. The programme was initially met by very loud challenges from some residents and businesses. A process of consultation and collaborative planning involved some 16,000 residents of the borough - a number that could not have practically been reached without using online platforms alongside traditional engagement.

What is interesting for us and underpins our view that the time has come for transparency that benefits all parties, is the attitude of developers. More are becoming increasingly open about their plans, seeing the benefit of open dialogue that does generate public trust. This suggests that there is scope for building trust and that openness may help pave the way for development that is not just faster in gestation, but better in outcome. Meanwhile, the reduction in attrition also underpins a rebuilding of trust in local government as the driver of transparency.

David Janner-Klausner

David Janner-Klausner

Co-founder & Deputy CEO