In light of the government's vision to create sustainable communities, the planning process is set to change. Mike Conway looks at how this will impact on the facilities management profession
09 July 2004
It is highly likely that most facilities managers will already be aware of changes that are being made to improve the way the planning system operates. Central to these changes is the arrival of the government's consultation paper on Planning Policy Statement 1 - Creating Sustainable Communities (PPS1). The consultation period has just closed on the paper, which sets out the government's vision for creating sustainable communities and improving the planning process through greater social inclusion.
A wide range of bodies, groups and associations have commented and recorded their views on the first of the new PPS documents that will ultimately replace the Planning Policy Guidance (PPG) notes, and will provide direction and set parameters for local authority planning departments in the determination of permissions. Essentially, they are rules of engagement determining how planning officers and departments operate.
n the surface, the macro issues involved in the consultation paper for PPS1, do not have too much direct bearing for the facilities management profession, but there is one aspect of the imminent changes in planning structure, that will demand the development of a new set of skills for those seeking planning permission for major new build projects, or looking to secure a change use. Communicating the benefits of a scheme to the community, and building a case in a public forum is likely to become a more important task, as public awareness of planning applications increases as a result of the reforms.
As facilities managers become more involved in capital project planning and in delivering time-critical project management and churn programmes, this potential change to the planning process is likely to have an impact on the facilities management role. If, as a facilities manager, you are likely to be involved in a major application for new build or change or use, then a new set of skills is likely to be needed that allow you to effectively and clearly communicate the benefits of what you could be proposing to the community.
There are three key strands to the consultation paper on PPS1: sustainable development - the purpose of the planning system; the spatial planning approach and community involvement in planning. The majority of the debate on the consultation paper lies in the first two strands, and among a range of issues, sets out aims for sustainable development. These are: maintenance of high and stable levels of economic growth and employment; social progress that recognises everyone's needs; effective protection of the environment and wise use of natural resources.
This is all very well for masterplanners and developers of major mixed-use schemes, and a great deal has already been written on how this will change the overall process for planning. But what is important here is the impact of the third strand - community involvement in planning. This sets out the vision as 'Planning must work as a partnership and involve the community to deliver sustainable development in the right place at the right time'. It calls for a system that is transparent, promotes participation, and is accessible and accountable. Future planning will require the community at large (the public, businesses, groups and bodies) to be notified and informed well in advance, enabling a wide range of ideas to be put forward and greater participation in the process.
What this will mean for major planning applications is far greater community awareness as well as effective channels for feedback to influence decisions. Community stakeholders will be more informed, will have a lot more time to organise and have greater opportunity to oppose applications in a public forum. Essentially, debates on applications are likely to become more public, with a louder voice and more power for any opposition - whether the community or groups with special interests. While most major developers have become experts in managing communications and building a case, for the one-off corporate client, pro-active communication is often considered an after-thought.
Bearing the proposed changes to PPS1 in mind, making a strong case and winning the debate prior to application will become increasingly important. This will involve establishing good communications at a number of levels, to help influence and ensure that the benefits of any planning proposals are delivered effectively. In the future, there will be a need for a far more considered approach to communications to deal with this new drive to involve the community to a far greater degree.
Camargue has delivered communications support for a many planning applications from major mixed schemes to one-off office and residential developments. It is clear that an effective communications strategy can significantly reduce risk and waste, in any application process. While previously the time and money spent in pro-actively taking benefits to a range of stakeholders as an option was a wise investment, in the future, it is likely that it will be more of a requirement.
Putting forward your case in a controlled and managed way has a far greater benefit than reacting to a public outcry as a result of chinese whispers and misinterpretations. While many smart developers look to proactively develop a communications programme to support an application, often communications only come on to the radar once the opposition has started a voice of dissent - usually through the press.
There is a great deal that facilities managers can do to ensure they are able to communicate openly with key stakeholders, from understanding who they need to talk through a stakeholder audit, to working with local and national press, research, public exhibitions, interactive websites, public information displays, links with schools to name but a few. In the future, behind every successful planning application will be a well prepared and executed communications plan.
Mike Conway is a director at Camargue