How to engage with local government as a developer

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Shannon Lynn
November 2, 2023
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When you’re planning your next development project, it is important to know who will be making the final decision. Prior Approval applications, and some smaller planning applications are normally decided under ‘delegated powers’ by planning officers; but if you’re planning a larger scheme, or one that will attract objections, you’re likely to end up in front of the planning committee with locally elected council members making the final call. 

In this blog, we explore the setup of local government in the UK – and how you can best engage with members to get results. 

What is local government? 

Local government touches many aspects of public life, including schools, alcohol and event licensing, and social care. But for this blog, we’ll be specifically looking at the role they play in planning and development. 

Local councillors are elected by constituents during a local election. Turnout at local elections is normally quite low (Local Government Association data shows that the mean average turnout has been sitting around 35% for the last 10 years. In 2022, the lowest turnout was around 26%). 

Councillors represent the people that elected them on the local council and their role in planning maintains a democratic link between the people in an area and what is happening around them. 

Structure of local government

Planning departments sit within the local council and are normally made up of trained and permanent planning professionals. Councillors have two main roles for shaping development in their area. Firstly, they set the policy agenda by directing, and then approving and adopting a local plan. Secondly, they have a say in deciding if planning applications accord with that local plan, which they do on the advice of the officers in their planning department. 

There are two main types of council structure in England - two tier authorities and unitary authorities. In two-tier authorities the upper tier (County Council) is normally responsible for roads and schools, among other things, while the District Councils are responsible for deciding on planning applications. In Unitary Authorities, all the functions of a council are undertaken by the same organisation.


Why are strong relations with local governments important?

Now you have a better understanding of how local government is structured, it’s time to take a look at why it’s so important to work closely with councillors and planning officers. 

Below, we share some of the key benefits of building strong relationships within local government:

  • Potential for faster approvals and avoiding appeals
  • Gain a better understanding and mitigate regulatory challenges 
  • Feedback and shape future communities

With the benefits above, it’s clear why you should be making an effort with your local government, but how do you build these relations in practice?


How to engage to get results

Get to know the key players

The first step is to identify the relevant stakeholders who sit within the councils you’re working in, as well as which political party they belong to.  

Key stakeholders to identify will include the ward councillor that represents the ward in which your site is located, the Chair of the Development Management (DM) committee and the other members of the DM committee (these individuals may be deciding on your application in due course), and the leader of the council (the full council will normally be involved in policy decisions; like adoption of a local plan).

Reach out to any key councillors to understand their focus areas and what their stance is on any important topics. Opening up this two-way dialogue will enable you to align the messaging around your project to the vision of the council.The lack of standardisation across council websites can make it harder to navigate and dig into the detail of which councillors look after which wards. That’s why we partnered with Cratus to break down all this information for each Local Planning Authority in our factsheets. Plus, we share insights into the political leaning of the DM Committee within each council.

Provide feedback on Local Plans 

The Local Plan is an integral part of the Council’s strategy for delivering housing and other valuable services to the community.

A councillor’s role is to decide on and promote the priorities of businesses and individuals who live and work within the planning authority area. The Local Plan should be reviewed (at least) every five years, and the average time taken to progress a Local Plan to adoption is currently around seven years. So the Councillors should always have an eye on keeping the strategic direction of their Local Plan up to date.   

Developers have a unique insight into the housing market on both a micro and macro level. Engaging with your local government’s plan-making process will help shape a better community, as well as potentially create increased opportunities for development. 


Participate in public consultations

Outside of the Local Plan, there are many other ways you can collaborate and shape policy as public consultations are held on a wide range of topics. 

It may seem cumbersome to formulate responses or to attend in-person meetings to give your input, but the long-term benefits are likely to outweigh the initial inconvenience. 

Plus, you have the added benefit of hearing directly from members of the public and engaging with them directly to hear their thoughts on developments and needs within the community. 

However, it’s important to understand that consultations have limitations and are unlikely to unlock all the answers you need.

Learn more about engaging effectively with local government

Listen to the first episode of Series 3 of the Real Developer podcast to hear from host Alex Harrington Griffin, Harry Quartermain (Head of Research & Insights at LandTech), Julian Seymour (MD at Cratus), and Harry Keen (Senior Associate at London Green) where they discuss how to navigate politics in planning.

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