Please see email below from DPEA and attached minutes of previous meeting. If anyone has any issues they would like SAS to raise at the next meeting, please contact Graham Lang before 12 May.
As attendees in December will recall, we spend some time discussing community engagement as a key theme from the Empowering Planning Report (now seen in the White Paper published since we met).
Addressing how we can ensure effective, meaningful and consistent community engagement in decision making in planning appeals is a key challenge ahead, but one where legislative change is not seen as the delivery agent.
We recognised in discussion that questions of identifying what is meant by the community and how its views are taken into account and reflected is not straightforward. Equally not all community views point in the same direction nor is it always easy to give proper weight to different views where some are expressed more forcefully than others.
We in DPEA have been giving some thought to the evidence we can draw from our case management systems on effectiveness (or otherwise) of community involvement in planning appeals and will continue to do so. We recognise that much of what is suggested is anecdotal or where the link with the outcome of the appeal involves assumptions which are hard to properly test.
Instead of proceeding along either of such tracks, we are keen for stakeholders to express views more specifically about what they think DPEA could do better by way of good practice to identify which groups or bodies represent communities (amongst those identified as interested parties); to ascertain their views; to engage with them and ensure that their voices are heard; to reflect their views in decision letters; and to ensure that they feel appropriately consulted and engaged in the decision making process that can enhance and maintain confidence in the work of DPEA.
In addition, it would be useful if stakeholders could identify what they see as barriers to fuller and more effective participation for communities in DPEA processes.
In seeking these views, we recognise that the role of DPEA can extend only to such engagement in the course of and within the constraints of appeals before us. We do not consider that we can have a role in identifying and engaging with community groups beyond those who are interested parties in appeals.
We are keen to hear stakeholders views on what changes in standard decision letters might help and whether general guidance to reporters, setting out underlying principles, might be of value.
If stakeholders could express views and/or gather contributions on these issues in order to inform a more detailed discussion when we next meet as a group, that would be of value.
We have no objections to any of you seeking wider views from colleagues, though we would stress – both for the reasons above and because anecdote can be of more limited value – the importance of considering confidentiality if offering specific information about individuals and/or individual cases.
It would be useful to have comments before we meet (and ideally by 12 May).
Depending on responses, we in DPEA may look to consulting a wider group such as local planning authorities on next steps, informed by your views, before considering here what conclusions emerge.