The Oxford Planning Law conference took place over the weekend. One of the main themes was the benefit of public participation in planning, and the failure of the present democratic process to achieve that. This came into starkest relief in the discussions on neighbourhood plans. It is wrong that neighbourhood forums can be set up by limited groups that then have an ability to monopolise the neighbourhood planning, sometimes not even having an intention to prepare a neighbourhood plan. The blunt nature of referendum questions for a decision about a complex plan is wrong. The lack of real business or employee voting involvement is wrong.
One point the debate highlighted was the need to think again about how we should take decisions on plans and perhaps even on developments, and whether it is time to look afresh at voting regimes. Should votes be given to 16/17 year olds? Should all employees in an area be given votes? Should business have a vote? Should families with children have more votes given their investment in the future? Should votes be weighted? Should the votes of those immediately adjacent to proposed development sites be given more weight, or maybe less? Should votes be tied to investment commitments? Should there be votes available for those outside a district who wish to move there? Should Councillors have a proportion of the vote as local representatives? Should a Councillor or other person be asked to represent community, conservation or business interests and have a proportionate vote? Should there be votes separately on different chapters of plans? Should there be votes on competing plans?
We have been boringly unimaginative about decision making over the last century. Is it not about time we had a wider debate about participation and the wider franchise?