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Why you should engage with parish councils

With the increase of neighbourhood plans across the country, it is becoming more and more important to fully engage with parish and town councils in order to ensure a smooth planning process.

Neighbourhood plans are now a vital part of planning policy and allow local communities, sometimes in the form of parish or town councils, the ability to shape where development will go and what it will look like.

Parish and town councils – important but traditionally weak

Parish and town councils have always been consultees in the planning process. As the lowest tier of government, they are important representatives of local communities and neighbourhoods. Often they are made up of volunteers, rather than professional politicians and as such can drive public opinion on development proposals as they are often much closer to the issue than local authority representatives. However, their power, in terms of planning decisions, has traditionally been weak, but that has changed since the Localism Act was introduced in 2011 where a greater ability to influence development was given to communities in the form of neighbourhood plans.

Because of this, it is now even more important that developers, planners and architects engage fully and openly with these organisations.

Types of engagement

Neighbourhood plans are the product of blood, sweat and tears. They take months of discussion and planning, and end with a referendum where local people decide whether the final plan is acceptable or not. With this in mind, it is not surprising that councillors can be very protective of their adopted plans!

My advice is to make sure you approach these councillors early on, preferably before you go to the wider community. More often than not, town and parish councils will appreciate the opportunity to meet with you to discuss the early proposals. You should also take this opportunity to explain how you will consult with the local community and take on board any feedback the council will have on this; after all, they will know the area very well and what types of engagement works best.

Presentations to the councils are a great way to do this, as are individual one-to-one meetings with key councillors such as the chair (or mayor) and the neighbourhood planning lead, if there is one. Once these meetings are concluded make sure you keep the councillors updated throughout, ensuring that any issues or concerns can be identified early on and rectified before they turn into larger problems.

Creating a public face

By meeting with local councils you can establish a clear and open dialogue between you and some of the most influential opinion formers in a community. If you take the time to meet with them and hear their views you will show that you are not some “big bad developer” looking to simply build on green spaces, but instead a person that wants to help an area by developing homes for people to live in or shops for customers to shop at. This in turn can spread to other community groups and create a more positive narrative for your organisation and its development proposals.

Remarkable has great experience of engaging and consulting organisations such as town and parish councils and can help you in any consultation strategies you may want to develop. For more advice on this drop us a line here.

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