Londoners need to play more of a role in shaping decisions on local planning, development and regeneration. London is already doing well with engagement in some respects: it has a vital and engaged civil society, boroughs often have good connections with their citizens, and the city has become a centre for innovation in new, often digital, methods of engagement. Mayoral initiatives like estate ballots and the Talk London engagement platform have worked well, as has neighbourhood planning in some parts of the city. But we need to go much further.
Public trust in developers and local authorities proposing new developments is very low, and too many people feel that public engagement is tokenistic or mechanistic and one way: done to them but not done with them. If people think that new engagement is more of the same, it may reduce trust even more. We also need to do more to learn from what has gone well in London and other places.
Better engagement is important because:
- It improves the quality of what gets built. Local people hold the knowledge about their community, how new development and regeneration will affect their local area and how it can support their needs and aspirations. In the best examples, local peoples’ skills and knowledge informs, complements and builds on the professional skills and knowledge of developers, architects and planners.
- Positive, early and ongoing engagement can increase the quantity of housing that gets built, because it builds trust and transparency and so helps move the discussion between residents, developers and public bodies from being negative and oppositional to being problem-solving and collaborative.
- Having a say in how our areas look, feel and operate is a democratic right. Voting in elections is part of democracy, but the evolution of our neighbourhoods doesn’t work on a four or five-year election cycle: it needs the ongoing, longterm involvement of broadly based, diverse and representative dedicated civil society groups and active citizens, coupled with inclusive reaching out to people whose voices are seldom valued.
- Being involved in decision making boosts wellbeing, motivation and a sense of agency, through people feeling more in control and more connected to their local areas, most importantly for people who currently feel cut off from decision making.
The pandemic has shown us how much Londoners want to help each other, to work together to solve problems, and to come up with new ideas. We must build on this demonstration of community spirit as the city recovers and we plan for a better future.