Help Civic Voice to fund a public opinion poll to ask the public who has the most power in the planning system?

Civic Voice – the national charity for the civic society movement – is today launching a fundraising campaign to help support an independent opinion poll, to help understand the public’s perception on who has the power in the planning system.

We need your help to raise £5,000 to support this opinion poll in what we expect to become an annual survey to measure the general public’s opinion and perception on how Government policy is helping to push planning powers down to communities. 

You can donate to the fundraising campaign here.

We will publish the results on April 21st at a Parliamentary meeting when we will discuss How do we put publication participation in placemaking at the heart of decision making?

Power in the Planning system chart

Why are we doing this? 

As part of a 2019 campaign to rebalance the power in the planning system, we surveyed 750 of our members (see chart opposite) and they felt that the power in the planning system was split between “House Builders” and “Central Government”. Do you agree?

When we shared these results at a Parliamentary event, one-well known housing developer said to us at the time: “Well your members would say that, they are the usual suspects, but others will think differently”.

Building on from this feedback, we want to appoint an independent polling organisation to give us a more thorough, extensive and completely independent survey to find out from the wider public; Who do they think has the power in the planning system? 

Will a wider poll of the public think the same? We don’t know, but we want to investigate it with your support! By crowdfunding for this, it will be a truly independent survey – not linked to any think-tank or any profession. Just a genuine opportunity to find out what the public think!

At Civic Voice we believe that power is closely associated with trust and according to a survey published by property firm Grosvenor Britain & Ireland, the public lacks trust in developers and the planning system. The survey, conducted in March 2019, by YouGov survey comprised 15 closed questions, to which 2,183 members of the public responded. It found that that just 2 per cent of the public trust developers and only 7 per cent have faith in local authorities when it comes to planning for large-scale development. Whilst not a complete revelation, when combined with the Veracity index from Ipsos Mori (see image below), you can see that when asked what professions we trust, the public view local councillors in the bottom half. These are key individuals when it comes to making decisions about planning applications.

Veracity Index 2019


In our view, power and trust are both connected. The challenge is fitting this into such a complex system, it is hard to know who really has the power – and who should have the power – but we have ended up in a situation whereby communities now believe that the people who hold the power, are also the people they do not trust! Is it any wonder we see confrontation when trying to decide where to put the homes of the future.

Trust and power are closely connected. Trust is important because it is the basis around which all human relationships revolve. Without trust there can be no relationship. … Trust is important because if you don’t trust someone then it can be difficult to create an environment where you want to respect and follow a decision. You might be asking, why are they suggesting this way? Asking ‘what is in it for them” and ‘how are they getting one over on me may be sensible’.

Our long-term vision is to devolve power in the planning system to the Civic Voice Manifesto Jpeople who live and work in an place. In a modern society, we should be able to trust citizens to make the appropriate decisions, when presented with the evidence – and take it away from local party politics. To achieve this, we need to redefine the planning system, embrace planning technology and accepted that citizens must have a greater voice beyond the ballot box. We need to evolve how we do things so that decision making through publication participation is at the heart of placemaking and decision making. We believe we can achieve this through an ABCD Planning System: Accessible, Balanced, Collaborative and more Democratic.

What will it take for more local authorities to have trust & confidence in the role of community groups and people who live in a place to make local decisions? Is it because councils/councillors think they might lose power? It is because the political structures that exist will be weakened. Will people see issues and not politics?

We believe that moving power from Whitehall and The Town Hall to a local Community Hall will increase trust, restore balance and make the system more accessible for all. 

First, we need to raise £5000 to cover the cost of a public opinion poll. Please help us by donating here.  

Help Civic Voice to fund a public opinion poll to ask the public who has the most power in the planning system?

Epsom Civic Society embrace new guidance that gives civic societies a more meaningful voice in the planning system

In the Government’s new Design Guidance, community panels or forums can be set up by local planning authorities or third sector organisations, such as civic societies, to represent the views of local communities by scrutinising plans, policies or applications.

Responding to this policy change, Epsom Civic Society recently held an open meeting, ‘Re-shaping Epsom’s Future’ to communicate more widely the planning pressures facing the Borough, and to ask people to become active citizens in the planning process.  This is part of the Society’s support for a strong community input to shaping Epsom’s future.

EpsOM Civic Society

We were prompted to call the open meeting primarily in anticipation of a public consultation on the draft Local Plan scheduled to run March – May 2020. In addition, we wanted to increase awareness of recent planning applications that have generated public concern about impacts on Conservation Areas and Listed buildings, townscape and community facilities.

The Borough of Epsom and Ewell is the smallest of Surrey’s 11 local authorities, and the most densely populated. It has 21 Conservation Areas, three on Historic England’s risk register. 42% of land is designated as Green Belt, with Sites of Special Scientific Interest, Ancient Woodland and Areas of Great Landscape Value also located within the Borough boundary.  Epsom is at a tipping point in terms of planning and accommodating new development, with a shortage of urban land available for building.  Central government housing targets have put massive pressure on space: build up or build out or do both. New housing delivery is significantly below benchmark, there’s a lack of a five-year housing land supply and delay with the new Local Plan. The Society’s committee was unanimous in deciding it was time for some meaningful community engagement to explain the importance of getting involved and how residents’ views can help shape local plan policies and influence the outcomes on key planning applications.

We set up a sub-committee to plan the event, and publicised the meeting via our newsletter to members and via social media, including a local community website. A cold January night did not prevent an excellent turnout: our chosen venue, a local church, centrally located, was full. People signed in on arrival and were given the option of leaving an email address for us to maintain contact. We also provided a comments book. Our presentation, in two parts, focused on the headline issues, before we moved to Q and A sessions which generated a useful range of questions and comments.

The Society’s committee conducted a post-event review to identify what worked well and lessons learned in terms of the venue, its facilities and accessibility, our programme content and delivery, and audience engagement, participation and feedback. Some key takeaways: (i) it was a worthwhile and timely event, well-attended (ii) audience management is important – ensure parameters are set for Q and A / comments at the outset (iii) use of Slido or similar could extend engagement (iv) post-event feedback from attendees is very useful (v) maintaining post-event momentum is challenging with a small committee such as ours.  As for the Society’s own ‘next steps’, we have had a meeting with our MP (and invited him to join the APPG for Civic Societies) and are currently exploring opportunities as to how best to bring together the relevant people in a co-operative way to explore realistic solutions  to the challenging situation we are all facing.  We think that Local Plan policies must reflect community priorities in shaping the future of the Borough.

A strong community voice is needed to do this. We are now asking our members to send us their ideas for a future ECS event to support citizen action in planning.

In the words of Epsom Civic Society.


If you are inspired by Epsom Civic Society and would like to organise such a meeting, please speak to Civic Voice and we can support you:

Epsom Civic Society embrace new guidance that gives civic societies a more meaningful voice in the planning system

DCMS Historic England Review : Consultation deadline 9th May 2019

The Department for Digital, Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) is conducting a tailored review of Historic England. Read more here.

This is the first review of Historic England to take place since the organisation was split into two separate, though related, bodies in 2015: an Arm’s Length Body operating under the name Historic England, and a charity called The English Heritage Trust (trading as English Heritage).

Government is seeking the views of people who work, or have an interest, in the heritage sector across the United Kingdom, including those who receive advice from Historic England and those who have applied for grant funding from Historic England. The civic movement is an absolutely key stakeholder in this consultation and we need all civic societies to respond.   Please note, on Government reviews such as this, numbers count. The more civic societies that can respond will inform the overall results of the survey, but will help show the impact of the civic movement.

There are two ways to respond to the consultation. You can either submit a Survey Monkey form and answer the questions or you can email  direct with the title Review of Historic England: Civic Society Response.

We have drafted a template response for civic societies (available here).

Our key messages to Government will be: 

  • There is a need for a national watchdog to advise the Government on the historic environment. Listed buildings, conservation areas and the wider historic environment would be under greater threat without Historic England.
  • Since we have lost 37% of conservation officers since 2007, the recommendations to engage more with communities and build local capacity is a sensible move and one we support
  • Historic England cannot do everything so the approach towards a ‘placemaking’ focus, with a greater focus on ‘conservation areas’ and ‘heritage high streets’ is greatly supported by the civic movement as it chimes well with our Big Conservation Conversation campaign

The closing date is 12 noon Thursday 9th May 2019. 

Please copy Civic Voice in to your response, or email us to let us know you have responded, at so that we can monitor the level of responses from the civic movement.

Will Civic Voice respond to help make the case for the importance of nation’s historic environment?

DCMS Historic England Review : Consultation deadline 9th May 2019

Shadow Planning Minister, Roberta Blackman-Woods MP and former Housing and Planning Minister, Nick Raynsford speak at Parliamentary meeting on public participation in the planning system


The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Civic Societies met recently to discuss Public Participation in the Planning System. We use our Parliamentary meetings to bring MPs and key audiences in the sector together on issues that are impacting the civic society movement. Civic Voice is the only national organisation that speaks up nationally for the civic and conservation movement and campaigns on issues that cannot be changed locally.

Craig Mackinlay MP, Chair of the APPG for Civic Societies said: “We decided to invite the Shadow Planning Minister, Roberta Blackman-Woods MP, to enable her to share further thoughts on the Labour Party Commission on planning reform and how they intend on putting the public at the heart of the planning system. We also asked Nick Raynsford to attend to share his thoughts on the Raynsford Review. We really enjoyed the discussion hearing the national challenges we face, but thinking about how we can ensure meaningful engagement with the public is at the heart of any future planning system. We will continue to work with MPs from all sides to ensure the work of civic societies through the planning system is heard.”

More information on the Labour Planning Commission is available here and read about the Raynsford Review here

Ahead of the Parliamentary meeting on public engagement in the planning system, Civic Voice has signed up to support the call to urge the United Nations to make 2020 the Year of Public Engagement. You can see more information here.

Shadow Planning Minister, Roberta Blackman-Woods MP and former Housing and Planning Minister, Nick Raynsford speak at Parliamentary meeting on public participation in the planning system

Civic Society Design Review? Is this how we develop meaningful engagement?

Midlands Network courtyard

Anyone that was at the Civic Voice conference will know that Joan Humble, Civic Voice Chair, said in her speech that Civic Voice encourages civic societies to learn from groups such as Leeds and Sheffield who regularly engage with architects and developers, encouraging them to present their proposals to the civic society for feedback. Joan highlighted that more civic societies should be trying to make this happen and establish community design reviews! Joan’s statement was in the context of the recent changes to the NPPF, and how can we achieve more meaningful engagement.
 “Applications that can demonstrate early, proactive and effective engagement with the community should be looked on more favourably than those that cannot.” (para 128). ( )
Taking forward Joan’s comments, many civic societies have responded to our Building Better survey and suggested further ways for Civic Voice to help formalise the role of communities in the planning system. We have developed one of the ideas suggested (below) and we would welcome feedback.

When the Civic Voice Regional Forum met in September, one of the key messages to the Civic Voice board was that Civic Voice should be highlighting as many examples as possible of “effective community engagement” and not recommending a single approach. We have an APPG for Civic Societies meeting now taking place on March 27th that will discuss, Public Participation in the Planning System.  We now need civic societies across England to suggest good examples of effective community engagement between developers and the community.

We know that many local Civic Society committees hold meetings  with developers and they, the committee, give their views on the proposed development. The Regional Forum believe that standardising a Civic Movement Design Review, building on from what civic societies already do, is an opportunity not to be missed for civic societies as it can be a positive way of engaging and influencing proposed new development for the better. Our ethos is to encourage the community, through groups such as civic societies, to proactively and positively engage with developers and their teams. Civic societies contributing to the planning process is a cost-effective and efficient way to facilitate community-led design.

The work of civic societies across the country is exactly what the country needs to deliver 3million+ homes. What we need now is to formalise the work of the civic movement so that we become more organised on planning and housing. We know that some societies are in need of support to develop skills and expertise to manage increasingly complex planning applications. We want to support civic societies, neighbourhood forum and other community groups to do this. We take the lessons and examples directly to Minister and the Government.

This appears to be a positive step in the right direction and something Civic Voice will be highlighting so that other communities can have examples of effective meaningful engagement.

Civic Society Design Review? Is this how we develop meaningful engagement?

Roundtable with Shadow Planning Minister

Joan Roberta and Craig

Following on from the APPG for Civic Societies Parliamentary meeting on Public Participation in the Planning System, we have been approached by the Shadow Planning Minister, Roberta Blackman-Woods MP to arrange a round-table with Civic Voice members. We will be inviting 12 individuals to a meeting in London to discuss the 2-3 changes Civic Voice members feel need to be made to put ‘Public Participation at the heart of the Planning System’. 

The meeting will be co-chaired by Chair of Civic Voice, Joan Humble and Shadow Planning Minister, Roberta Blackman-Woods MP.

The meeting will be in London in June and will only involve Civic Voice members. If you are interested in attending such a meeting, please email your details to If you are interested in joining Civic Voice, get in touch! 

Please note, we will be ensuring that the meeting has a fair representative of Civic Voice members, by geography, size and gender so the final decision on attendees will be taken by Civic Voice’s Executive Director.

Roundtable with Shadow Planning Minister

Non-statutory consultee… is this the solution for civic societies?

In addition to the statutory consultees, local planning authorities should also consider whether there are compelling reasons to engage other consultees who – whilst not designated in law – are likely to have an interest in a proposed development. These are sometimes called non-statutory consultees.

Local planning authorities are encouraged to produce and publish a locally specific list of non-statutory consultees and should engage with non-statutory consultees to identify the types of developments within the local area in which they have an interest. This means that any formal consultation can be directed appropriately and unnecessary consultation avoided.

Joan Humble, Chair of Civic Voice and Blackpool Civic Trust said: “Blackpool Civic Trust isn’t just interested in the past. As a consultee on listed and locally listed buildings, and developments affecting conservation areas, the Trust plays a real role in regeneration and helps speed up decision making. Since becoming Chair of Civic Voice, I have visited many civic societies across England and I am surprised that so many civic societies are not consulted by their local authorities. However big or small, civic societies have expertise that can enhance their local built environment. The civic movement is the most numerous participant in the planning system so we want to hear how civic societies across England are ‘formally’ engaged with their local authority.”

We are interested in hearing back from civic societies to ascertain how formal/informal the relationship is with your local council as a non-statutory consultee. Please share thoughts at

Non-statutory consultee… is this the solution for civic societies?