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Localism: identifying the people that matter is vital

The Localism agenda means more work and more proactivity, so getting the ‘key influencers’ on side early is critical, says Geoff Armstrong

The only ‘clear’ conclusion we can make about the impact that localism is going to have on the UK’s planning system is that it’s going to vary – dependent on the region, the development sector and the priorities of the Local Authority.

In Leeds for example, all the signs suggest that Localism may be used by the council as a means of avoiding making difficult decisions on identifying sites for new housing – with the emphasis placed on the neighbourhood plan instead.

In our experience, we’re finding that the principles of Localism – used correctly - can be an enabler not a barrier to development. The Queen Elizabeth Barracks (QEB) development is a case in point. Planning permission was secured for 872 new homes, community uses, a new local centre, a school site and employment land at QEB, Church Crookham, Fleet, earlier this year.

Our success followed 10-years of failed applications

The success, achieved within 18 months, follows 10-years worth of failed applications at this site and a failed appeal - despite the allocation of this derelict, brownfield site for housing development in the Local Plan. 

It was the embracing of the emerging Localism agenda that led to success here; more specifically, by ensuring that local issues dictated the way forward for this development. In practice this meant identifying the key local people and councillors whose views would be essential to the delivery of a revised proposal and making a real effort to build a productive working relationship with the planning officers and parish council. All these key influencers and their positions on the development were used to develop and agree a public consultation strategy.

Queen_Elizabeth_Barracks_church_crookham_Masterplan

Now 18 months down the line and monthly meetings, regular exhibitions and regular, proactive communication resulted in the unanimous approval of planning permission. By negotiation, the provision of reduced Affordable Housing (30 per cent rather than 40 per cent) was secured as a trade off for enhanced education provision - something identified as a key requirement in the public consultation.

There’s no doubt this partnership approach takes more work and more proactivity than is arguably customary but when this extra leg work can help to maximise the likelihood of a successful end result it’s a model of working worth advocating.

Less of the trepidation with regards to Localism then, more of the ‘bring it on.’

Geoff Armstrong is partner at town planning practice DPP

Geoff Armstrong, Partner, DPP

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