Just read this worrying post about the removal of the duty to consult in England as part of the "bonfire red tape". Now, I can't say I'm a fan of the Scottish duty to involve which is in the community planning section of the Local Government in Scotland Act 2003. An argument I regularly make is because this exists statutory organisations feel they should consult, even if they're not very good at it or the consultation will just lead to anger, resentment and poor decisions. In a modern social democracy, sometimes I think decisions have to be made against consultation because the benefits are either too dispersed, or too long term, to effect decent consultation, no matter how much "community capacity building" you do. I think it's a pretty good maxim of all public policy decisions - the benefits will be dispersed, long-term and benefit quiet people, while the costs will be concentrated, short-term and anger loud people.
But, I'm not against community engagement per se. I know it works really well. I've seen it work really well. In the right circumstances. And I'd rather that duty be there in the Local Government in Scotland Act than not.
Which leads me onto this excellent exposition of the mess of the Localism Bill. He also makes the point that's slipped under the radar a lot, raised by Professor Sir Peter Hall of planning (my hero....), that the act allows private companies(!) to create the neighbourhood development plan messes (in line with national policy which basically says "build anything you like anywhere", so really what's the point). I can almost her Messrs Barratt, Persimmon and Bellway licking their lips getting ready to flounce into disparate urban neighbourhoods (London, I'm looking at you) shiny plan from planning consultants at the ready and before you know it you've got 1,000 executive flats on your doorstep because "your community" asked for them....
As Chris Brown says, thank God we have the Planning etc. (Scotland) Act 2006. It might not be perfect, but the hoo-ha over Third Party Rights to Appeal during the difficult five year birth of the Act means at least community consultation is central to the act. Although, as I said earlier, the concentrated cost and dispersed benefit of new development are always going to make it tricky.
I need to make this blog look nicer. But in the meantime I've a couple of dissertations to mark.