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New guidance for councillors launched to help improve quality of developments

A new guide, aimed at helping councillors to better understand the planning process, has today been launched in London ahead of the Government’s proposed planning reforms (National Planning Policy Framework).

Under the reforms, local planning authorities are encouraged to engage with applicants at the pre-application stage to help improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the planning system. But pre-application discussions have often only been carried out by officers of the local planning authority.

The guide, produced by London First and the Planning Officer’s Society London, sets out, through examples of best practice, what discussions can take place between applicants and councillors regarding a proposal, and tries to break down the barriers between local councillor engagement and the role they can play in understanding a planning application before it reaches committee stage for a decision.

Having a better understanding of planning applications should ensure that decisions are more informed and provide more certainty.
The guidance, which is sponsored by London Communications Agency, Hogan Lovells and Argent, will be issued to councils and developers across the country to encourage a quicker development process with better, more transparent engagement between councillors and applicants.

Baroness Jo Valentine, Chief Executive of London First, said:
“Getting our built environment right is crucial for London’s future success, but poor decision making as a result of complex procedures can slow down development – and the benefits from these developments are then reduced or lost. Helping councillors to better understand the planning process and how and when to engage with applicants, will help iron out sticking points and make the planning decision making process smoother, quicker, more effective and transparent.”

Mike Kiely, Chair, Planning Officers Society, London, said:
“This guide is designed to illuminate the uncertainty that exists about councillors being involved in the pre-application stage and sets out the best practice that is evident across many parts of London. Involving councillors early in the planning process allows them greater input, can give applicants and the local community more certainty and clarity in decision-making, but most importantly of all, it produces better quality developments.”

Jonny Popper, London Communications Agency, said:
“Councillors engaging directly with applicants is vital to aid effective decision making as well as influencing the design process itself. This should increasingly be part of the application process with a wide range of appropriate contact opportunities open to Councillors, much of which is set out in this guidance.”

Robert Evans, Argent Group, said:
“It is important that applicants and councillors are able to meet transparently to discuss strategic planning applications. Such applications have the ability to transform an area therefore, effective and appropriate engagement between applicants and councillors will lead to better consultation, better decision making and better development.”

Michael Gallimore, Hogan Lovells, said:
“For too long there has been confusion and inconsistency in the approach to Member engagement on development schemes during the application process. The ground rules are actually well established and there is no reason why elected Members should not play an active part in the process. This guidance plays a valuable role in explaining the key principles and will help to speed up and improve the decision making process”.

Ends

Notes to Editors

London First is a business membership organisation whose mission is to make London the best city in the world in which to do business. London First undertakes this by mobilising the experience, expertise and enthusiasm of the private sector to develop practical solutions to the challenges facing London. London First also seeks to persuade central and London government to make the investments that London needs in its infrastructure.

POS London is the capital’s branch of the Planning Officers Society. The Society represents senior professionals and managers of planning functions in the public sector serving English Local Authorities.

The Society’s aim is to ensure that planning makes a major contribution to achieving sustainable developments, from national to local level, in ways, which are fair and equitable and achieve the social, economic and environmental aspirations of all sectors of the community.

The guide is sponsored by Argent Group PLC (http://www.argentgroup.plc.uk/), London Communications Agency (http://www.londoncommunications.co.uk/), and Hogan Lovells (http://www.hoganlovells.com/).

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