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Reflections on 2021

Listen to Locals was established in March of this year initially to bring community engagement in planning on to the agenda for the London mayoral and Assembly elections in May. Since its inception, both the campaign and the forces shaping it have not stood still.

We did indeed put community engagement on the City Hall agenda as we joined with Just Space and Collective Community Action to assemble 13 community groups across London to challenge mayoral and London Assembly candidates in a series of hustings. With contributions from the Silvertown Tunnel campaign in east London to the Stag Brewery regeneration in SW, all candidates recognised the crucial need for elected officials, planning officers and developers to listen to locals. This message has continued to cut through and play a central role at City Hall, as the Assembly’s leader Andrew Boff , pledged his support for the Listen to Locals campaign.

Since the election we continue to work with the London Assembly’s Planning & Regeneration committee, and are supporting its efforts to review the mayoral call-in policy and to explore how this could be made more effective for all involved.

We’ve also worked with Planning Aid London on developing its guidance for community groups on the mayoral call-in process.

On a broader level we’ve seen stepped-up activism at the community level around public health and climate change, and are actively seeking opportunities to integrate this activism into the planning process.

The second year of the Covid pandemic has revealed continued growth in health inequalities across London and indeed the entire country. We believe that the planning system can and should become a crucial vehicle for addressing and rectifying these inequalities, and have put at the core of our mission the promotion and sustenance of health in local communities, and the redesign of the Health Impact Assessments that inform the planning decisions impacting the lives and livelihoods of local residents. We want to see the HIA move from a risk-mitigation exercise to an active health improvement one, and we encourage the property development sector to embrace this opportunity.

On the latter point we have partnered with Business for Health whose mission is to put “H” (health) into the ESG (environment, social and governance) agenda that so many corporates are now adopting in response to so many shareholders and customers demanding it. Our aim is to establish a group of housebuilders, property developers and investors to be first movers in executing the Business for Health mission in the planning and regeneration arena.

We continue to explore how digital tools can encourage and support community engagement, and we’re actively seeking out individuals and organisations doing interesting things with these tools. During the year we have engaged several digital planning pioneers - often described as “plantech” - around providing local community groups access to their products.

Paul Oesten-Creasy from VuCity told us how his company is working with new sources of data made available this year to build flexible and adaptable models of local areas that enable developers, planners and local residents to see, question, and rethink development proposals. They are working on models that visualise projects around far more than height, scale, design and density, adding in socioeconomic, environmental and eventually health factors.

Sebastian Weise from PlaceChangers told us about how his organisation has built a digital engagement platform that incorporates recently avajlable health data. He believes that tools like his help to create a level and objective playing field between project owner and local residents, enabling open debate about proposed developments with transparent data.

We are aware that many of the initiatives we are supporting and the ideas they incorporate are being considered by the newly renamed Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. Hopefully the delay of the White Paper on levelling up through planning suggests that its authors are listening to campaigns like ours, and the many others that are challenging practices that are unfair, inequitable, unhealthy, and/or environmentally damaging. We remain optimistic that 2022 will see an acceleration in the multidisciplinary expertise and activism driving debates around local planning, more and better community engagement, and increased focus on the impacts of development on health and climate.

Wishing you a very happy Christmas and new year.

Clare Delmar

Listen to Locals

December 18, 2021


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