Planning for real community control?


Not in this town please

It’s guest post day (Woo and most definitely Hoo!) and today our poster grapples with the tricky topic of planning law. We at WLLG are not planning experts but the fact that local politicians can get involved in whether or not someone has a house extension but cannot stop the local pub turning into a Hooters or the local corner shop into a Tesco does seem a little strange. Do our expert readers agree with our guest poster that real community control is lacking from our planning law and if so what can be done about it?

Planning has always been the hottest of all local government topics as the one most likely to stir the passions of local people and yet no sooner have those passions been stirred do residents realise that their actual control over the process is fairly limited.

In Bristol, for example, there have been, for reasons ranging from the feminist to the economic, protests over the proposed sites of Hooters, Costa Coffee and most notably Tesco.

I’ll forgo the rights and wrongs of any of these businesses themselves but it is worth noting the difficulty of using the planning system, as it is currently designed, to get what communities want.
There are areas of planning where control can be had by a community. For example, communities, through their local councils, can plan the types of building that they would like to see in their neighbourhoods and where they would like them to be. This can be through allocating land for particular types of development or by asking developers for Council’s consent before changing the use of a building.

For instance a building can be classified as suitable for use as A1 – Retail, subject to other licenses for instance on alcohol or fireworks, almost any type of shop can go in there or another building can be classified as A4 – Drinking establishment.

However, the above can be quite abstract and doesn’t necessarily excite the passions of the average man or woman in the street.

What’s more and here’s where residents will get very annoyed, the law does not differentiate between a corner shop and a Tesco Metro or a Hungry Horse and a Hooters.

If the community objects to particular businesses then planning authorities have little legal recourse. Many residents would argue that the classification of the area is not important, it the detail that is and when it comes to detail the angry community is often defeated by ‘the law’. Admittedly, the system does allow a little discretion in issues of design where some judgement is allowed but not in use. But, if someone opposes a Hooters, it is unlikely that fiddling with the design of the doorframes will make much difference?

The key question for us all is how can the law through the planning system take into account concerns of the public where those concerns are about the qualitative difference of a development and cannot be easily quantified? What’s more, how can this be done without becoming merely a NIMBY’s charter

I’d be interested to hear your ideas about how this could be addressed or even whether it should be addressed?

Explore posts in the same categories: Big P Politics, We love the Council

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One Comment on “Planning for real community control?”


  1. You’ll never get away from the NIMBY challenge. (I think of myself as a fair, civically-minded person, but I very definitely would not want the leafy allotments at the back of my house built on) But that’s no excuse for not changing the planning system, which, as you say, is not well-geared for genuinely responsive public engagement.

    It would certainly make life even tougher for planners and councillors, to have to field strongly divergent opinions and be more accountable for their decisions. But allied to really good communications and transparency – including having the bottle to clearly explain and stand by decisions – and good, honest governance, a more responsive system need not frighten the horses.

    Thanks for the post – a hot topic indeed!


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