The British public have lost faith in the planning system – so how can we rebuild trust?

New homes in Bristol. Image: Getty.

Developers are worried, a developer writes. 

The country needs to build more homes. This is a statement that most people agree with. But it has also never been harder to deliver the homes the public wants to see.  Too often there is a stand-off between communities, developers and councils that stalls development and the many wider benefits it can bring beyond new homes.

At the heart of this sits a huge trust deficit in the process of planning and regeneration in the UK. A lack of trust that holds us back from delivering the homes and critical infrastructure we need to support a growing population and economy.

At Grosvenor, we wanted to better understand this trust deficit, and commissioned the largest ever canvassing of public attitudes towards trust in the planning system and its key actors – the private and public sector.

The results are stark. Just 2 per cent of participants in our national survey said they trusted developers to act in an honest way in large-scale development.

The picture is little better for local authorities. Asked whether they trusted their local council to make decisions on large-scale developments in the best interests of their area, just 7 per cent of respondents agreed.

For developers, the key driver of public distrust is the perception that they only care about making a profit. For local authorities, the reasons are broader based, but what comes through is that the public does not really understand what their local council is doing and why this is in their best interests.

In short: developers only care about money, and communities don’t trust that their local authorities are holding us to account.   

So how to go about rebuilding trust in this vital area of public life?

We need to do more. More as a developer ourselves, and as a sector, to improve our behaviour and better explain what we are trying to achieve and how we are delivering on our promises.

More also needs to be done to support local councils in their efforts to shape their area and new developments for the communities they serve.

We don’t have all the answers. And we know that we can only rebuild trust if more of us accept that we need to change and act accordingly. But we stand ready to play our part.

Grosvenor is setting out our own commitments to drive more transparency, scrutiny and community involvement as we shape our schemes. And we are already putting these into practice.

We also want to work with our peers in real estate, the public sector and civic society to collectively rebuild trust in the planning system and development. There has been a strong response to the opportunity to join a working group we have established, and we hope that others will join us.

The prize – more homes, new jobs, better places – is worth fighting for.

Craig McWilliam is chief executive of Grosvenor Britain & Ireland.


17 things the proposed “Tulip” skyscraper that London mayor Sadiq Khan just scrapped definitely resembled

Artist's impression. See if you can guess which one The Tulip is. Image: Foster + Partners.

Sadiq Khan has scrapped plans to build a massive glass thing in the City of London, on the grounds it would knacker London’s skyline. The “Tulip” would have been a narrow, 300m skyscraper, designed by Norman Foster’s Foster & Partners, with a viewing platform at the top. Following the mayor’s intervention, it now won’t be anything of the sort.

This may be no bad thing. For one thing, a lot of very important and clever people have been noisily unconvinced by the design. Take this statement from Duncan Wilson, the chief executive of Historic England, from earlier this year: “This building, a lift shaft with a bulge on top, would damage the very thing its developers claim they will deliver – tourism and views of London’s extraordinary heritage.”

More to the point, the design was just bloody silly. Here are some other things that, if it had been built, the Tulip would definitely have looked like.

1. A matchstick.

2. A drumstick.

3. A cotton ear bud.

4. A mystical staff, of the sort that might be wielded by Gandalf the Grey.

5. A giant spring onion.

6. A can of deodorant, from one of the brands whose cans are seemingly deliberately designed in such a way so as to remind male shoppers of the fact that they have a penis.

7. A device for unblocking a drain.

8. One of those lights that’s meant to resemble a candle.

9. A swab stick, of the sort sometimes used at sexual health clinics, in close proximity to somebody’s penis.

10.  A nearly finished lollipop.

11. Something a child would make from a pipe cleaner in art class, which you then have to pretend to be impressed by and keep on show for the next six months.

12. An arcology, of the sort seen in classic video game SimCity 2000.

13. Something you would order online and then pray will arrive in unmarked packaging.

14. The part of the male anatomy that the thing you are ordering online is meant to be a more impressive replica of.

15. A building that appears on the London skyline in the Star Trek franchise, in an attempt to communicate that we are looking at the FUTURE.

14a. Sorry, the one before last was a bit vague. What I actually meant was: a penis.

16. A long thin tube with a confusing bulbous bit on the end.

17. A stamen. Which, for avoidance of doubt, is a plant’s penis.

One thing it definitely does not resemble:

A sodding tulip.

Anyway, it’s bad, and it’s good the mayor has blocked it.

That’s it, that’s the take.

(Thanks to Anoosh Chakelian, Jasper Jackson, Patrick Maguire for helping me get to 17.)

Jonn Elledge is editor of CityMetric and the assistant editor of the New Statesman. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.

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