1. Environmental
July 10, 2019

The British public have lost faith in the planning system – so how can we rebuild trust?

By Craig McWilliam

Developers are worried, a developer writes. 

The country needs to build more homes. This is a statement that most people agree with. But it has also never been harder to deliver the homes the public wants to see.  Too often there is a stand-off between communities, developers and councils that stalls development and the many wider benefits it can bring beyond new homes.

At the heart of this sits a huge trust deficit in the process of planning and regeneration in the UK. A lack of trust that holds us back from delivering the homes and critical infrastructure we need to support a growing population and economy.

At Grosvenor, we wanted to better understand this trust deficit, and commissioned the largest ever canvassing of public attitudes towards trust in the planning system and its key actors – the private and public sector.

The results are stark. Just 2 per cent of participants in our national survey said they trusted developers to act in an honest way in large-scale development.

The picture is little better for local authorities. Asked whether they trusted their local council to make decisions on large-scale developments in the best interests of their area, just 7 per cent of respondents agreed.

For developers, the key driver of public distrust is the perception that they only care about making a profit. For local authorities, the reasons are broader based, but what comes through is that the public does not really understand what their local council is doing and why this is in their best interests.

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In short: developers only care about money, and communities don’t trust that their local authorities are holding us to account.   

So how to go about rebuilding trust in this vital area of public life?

We need to do more. More as a developer ourselves, and as a sector, to improve our behaviour and better explain what we are trying to achieve and how we are delivering on our promises.

More also needs to be done to support local councils in their efforts to shape their area and new developments for the communities they serve.

We don’t have all the answers. And we know that we can only rebuild trust if more of us accept that we need to change and act accordingly. But we stand ready to play our part.

Grosvenor is setting out our own commitments to drive more transparency, scrutiny and community involvement as we shape our schemes. And we are already putting these into practice.

We also want to work with our peers in real estate, the public sector and civic society to collectively rebuild trust in the planning system and development. There has been a strong response to the opportunity to join a working group we have established, and we hope that others will join us.

The prize – more homes, new jobs, better places – is worth fighting for.

Craig McWilliam is chief executive of Grosvenor Britain & Ireland.

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