The Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities has awarded Greater Cambridge Shared Planning £290,000 of funding to improve feedback processes for its emerging Local Plan.
Greater Cambridge Shared Planning (GCSP) is a partnership between South Cambridgeshire District and Cambridge City Councils.
The funding seeks to build upon the earlier work in producing a “digital” Local Plan by speeding up the processing and the review of the thousands of comments made by communities and developers through the process. This will shorten the time between people making comments and Councillors and communities being able to see who has said what about the emerging plan.
At a time when the government is seeking to reform the local plan process, to shorten the time taken to prepare and adopt such plans, finding more effective ways of capturing and feeding back the outcomes of the consultation will allow officers to focus on and engage with the critical challenges around plan making in Greater Cambridge – such as managing further development within the environmental constraints of the area.
Through this funding, GCSP intends to trial digital planning initiatives and improvements to back-office processes, aiming to see any improvements potentially rolled out to other planning authorities nationwide.
As GCSP seeks to further improve public participation in plan-making, and move towards a more digital approach to make it more convenient and straightforward for people to engage in plan-making, finding ways to capture and share views and comments, often received in a range of formats, has become more challenging.
Comments are now received through multiple channels, including the digital consultation platform, online surveys, emails and letters. It can take considerable officer resources and time to process and collate the submissions once received into a consistent format ready to be published on the GCSP website.
The councils have successfully applied for this funding given the innovative way it already consults with local communities, building on the high levels of public participation it already receives on the emerging Greater Cambridge Local Plan. This funding will enable the councils to kick start a project that will look at the overall timescale to register, publish and review representations with the aim for it to be quicker, resulting in a more transparent and efficient process. It will also have the potential to publish representations sooner post-consultation and improve the digital consultation platform to make it easier for people to share their thoughts on the emerging Local Plan.
Recognising that not everyone uses digital technology in the same way, the project will also need to look at how improvements to consultation systems will not discourage those less familiar with technology from engaging in the Local Plan process.
Cllr Dr. Tumi Hawkins, Lead Cabinet member for Planning for South Cambs District Council, said: “We welcome the government’s commitment to improving the plan-making process, which sometimes can be slow and confusing to our residents. The aim of this project will be to make it easier for people to engage in our consultations and speed up how these comments are processed, reviewed and published by our officers. We are also excited that Greater Cambridge could act as a frontrunner nationally and that any improvements we make could be used by other councils up and down the country over time.”
Cllr Katie Thornburrow, Executive Councillor for Planning Policy and Infrastructure at Cambridge City Council, said: “It has been really encouraging to see the level of engagement with the Greater Cambridge Local Plan process from so many people, but dealing with the sheer volume of contributions has placed a real burden on our systems. This exciting project will help us to save officers’ time, understand the issues and concerns raised, and make the consultation more effective, improving the quality of the final plan significantly. I look forward to seeing the initial enhancements to our digital consultation platform and to sharing what we learn from this process with other local authorities.”