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Katie Graham: Helping our elected members to support our communities

Katie Graham is a planning officer at Plymouth City Council, working in the Strategic Developments Team. She is also chair of the South West Planning Aid England (PAE) Task Group.

The PAE South West Task Group was set up to help champion PAE and to identify and deliver regional outreach activities, particularly in areas of high multiple deprivation. I joined in 2016, when the first call for volunteers was sent out. We’re now a group of five, a mixture of private and local authority planners, and have delivered volunteer training, Local Plan consultation support, and, over the last two years, a number of webinars.

In our most recent webinars, we’ve focused on engagement in the planning process for elected members. The first of these took an overarching approach, with speakers talking about how councillors can influence planning outcomes, neighbourhood planning, planning committee process, and engaging with the community. A lot of the feedback reflected how much attendees enjoyed hearing from our elected member speaker, so our second webinar had two elected member speakers, this time focusing on the Local Plan process.  

When listening to our speakers, what became clear to me was the innovative work taking place to engage local communities, and how closely the elected members and officers worked together.

A councillor at Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole discussed the Council’s podcasts, and use of social media “live” functions for innovative community engagement at the Issues and Options stage. A member of the planning team at Sedgemoor Council highlighted how the local plan process can improve engagement with communities. Using the local plan, they were able to learn more about the needs of the community, provide certainty about what will happen in the local area and increase local confidence in infrastructure delivery, which will help to attract new investment. An elected member from South Hams District Council outlined the opportunities and challenges of a Joint Local Plan process, including the importance of having a shared team, mapping key milestones, dealing with legislation changes mid-process, and the structure of the steering group that had oversight of the process.

Our elected members need the skills and knowledge to support their communities through a variety of different local issues and their associated planning considerations. It’s important that this is addressed first and foremost through their respective Local Authority training. Our webinars were intended to supplement this with stories of best practice, sharing challenges and lessons learnt and reflecting on the different legislative requirements. It is hoped that by sharing these experiences, other elected members can be inspired or may see a different perspective to help them overcome their own challenges. 

These events were publicised to the Politicians in Planning Network (PIPN), which has been set up to bring together politicians involved in planning and planning decisions.

Anyone interested in joining can follow the link here:

The RTPI has also introduced a new masterclass this year, Planning for Elected Members. This year’s classes have finished, so watch out for next year’s calendar.

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