Following our introduction last autumn of this occasional feature reporting news and views from the national organisation for civic societies, our update below presents a brief summary of some topics addressed by Civic Voice during the past quarter.
Concerns of civic societies
Results of research undertaken by Civic Voice show the breadth of interests and issues that civic societies are engaged in, including championing planning policies to create better places, and acting on questions of housing, heritage, climate change and community involvement. Via a desktop review of all 45 Local Plans submitted to the Planning Inspectorate from March 2019 to September 2021, the key findings were:
- 31 of the 45 had at least one civic society within their area, a similar percentage to previous indications;
- in consultation responses to Local Plans, comments were received from approximately three in every five civic societies;
- the consultation responses covered a vast breadth of issues, falling into 20 broad topics;
- the most common matters covered in these comments were concerned with heritage and site allocations, both referred to in 52% of responses.
Report on the Role of Civic Societies in the Planning Process
The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Civic Societies provides a forum to discuss issues related to the civic movement and provides a platform to raise these issues on the parliamentary agenda. With the support of the Group and in collaboration with the University of Reading, Civic Voice has arranged two current events.
On 8 February, the theme of the event was ‘The Value of Civic Societies in Planning’. At the meeting, the publication, by academics from the University of Reading, of a report, ‘Civic Societies and the Planning Process’, was launched by the University together with Civic Voice and the APPPG. The report shows “the extraordinary amount of time and energy that civic societies put into engaging with the planning system”. Data was collected through a survey questionnaire sent to all member societies of Civic Voice.
The research is the first extensive survey of how civic societies perceive their role in the planning system since the introduction of the Local Act 2011. It shows that engagement with the planning system is a significant part of the work of most civic societies, with some spending more than 80% of their time on it. More than half the societies had been approached directly by the local planning authority for their input.
The report recommends that any further reform of the planning system must explicitly consider this relationship, as considerable expertise and experience on planning matters rests with civic societies.
The next scheduled ticketed event, on 15 March, will focus on ‘A Review of Statements of Community Involvement’.
High Street Task Force
The High Street Task Force, appointed by government in 2019, is planned to provide 68 locations [one of which is Brighton & Hove] with expert consultancy and training, working directly alongside local government, and facilitating engagement with communities and civic societies, with the aim of unlocking the potential of each place. This follows a provision of direct support already made to 84 locations across England. Regional indicators of deprivation and inequality have been analysed to produce the list of 68 local authorities with the greatest need for support. Civic Voice is a member of the Task Force.
Levelling Up Strategy
On 2 February, The Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities launched the government’s Levelling Up Strategy, establishing twelve key national missions, to be given status in law.
Civic Voice is especially interested in Measure 9, and regards this as a campaign success for the civic movement:
‘By 2030, pride in place, such as people’s satisfaction with their town centre and engagement in local culture and community, will have risen in every area of the UK, with the gap between the top performing and other areas closing.’
Permitted Development Rights
Civic Voice is continuing to monitor prior approval applications for change of use from high street class to residential. While Civic Voice wants to be constructive and to encourage more housing in town centres, it believes the right checks and balances must be put in place to guard against unintended consequences. Concerns remain over the risks of poor quality homes and environments and loss of historic or distinctive character through inappropriate development and unsympathetic alterations.
Defining civic societies
In 2022, Civic Voice intends to seek a definition of what a civic society actually is. Despite their diversity in size, character and demographics, they often share similar aspirations and challenges. A working group from the civic movement is helping to explore whether and how a single definition might capture all of this.