icm2re logo. icm2:re (I Changed My Mind Reviewing Everything) is an 

ongoing web column by Brunella Longo

This column deals with some aspects of change management processes experienced almost in any industry impacted by the digital revolution: how to select, create, gather, manage, interpret, share data and information either because of internal and usually incremental scope - such learning, educational and re-engineering processes - or because of external forces, like mergers and acquisitions, restructuring goals, new regulations or disruptive technologies.

The title - I Changed My Mind Reviewing Everything - is a tribute to authors and scientists from different disciplinary fields that have illuminated my understanding of intentional change and decision making processes during the last thirty years, explaining how we think - or how we think about the way we think. The logo is a bit of a divertissement, from the latin divertere that means turn in separate ways.

Chronological Index | Subject Index

If change does not come easy, make it easier to change

About the planned revolution of planning processes

How to cite this article?
Longo, Brunella (2015). If change does not come easy, make it easier to change. About the planned revolution of planning processes. icm2re [I Changed my Mind Reviewing Everything ISSN 2059-688X (Online)], 4.3 (March).

How to cite this article?
Longo, Brunella (2015). If change does not come easy, make it easier to change. About the planned revolution of planning processes. icm2re [I Changed my Mind Reviewing Everything ISSN 2059-688X (Online)], 4.3 (March).

London, March 2015 - While many authors, consultants and project managers concentrate their work on how to change people behaviours, habits, language or skills very little effort and resources are usually devoted to change the ways in which things are designed. This would lead to organisational change that implies long term views about innovation.

The shift of energy, investments and attention from processes to people has gradually become the main trend in management since the late 1990, with more and more boards of public companies leaning towards current trends and shareholders expectations.

Everybody welcomes the informal and collaborative initiatives in a multitude of contexts, from education and politics to corporate governance or customer services, in which marketing and communications have become so important. And nonetheless, if we really want to see significative change in a number of contexts we need to design and implement new processes, more inclusive and more transparent on people views.

Many hands make light work?

One sector that desperately need such type of change is the housing sector in the UK, and particularly in London. A National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) introduced in 2012 a "Duty to Cooperate" that affects almost everybody, from statutory bodies to developers, local groups, associations, residents and requires to update and review all the existing planning policies.

My local authority sent out a questionnaire in order to review the ways in which local communities are involved in planning matters, that is defined in a policy document called Statement of Community Involvement (SCI).

Since I have been so dramatically personally affected by rogue landlords, defective premises, unscrupulous letting agents since I have lived in London, I could not welcome it more.

I also believe some issues of the London property market offer serious organised gangs and international criminals, pedophiles rings and human traffickers extraordinary opportunities that simply do not exist in other European countries, to hide and, even worse, to find strong local alliances.

Having such commitment to do the right thing, I prepared some further and general advice useful to address cybercrime risks in connection with planning matters and decided to answer the questionnaire.

Bricks for a new process

Here are the ten basic ideas I put in my questionnaire for the review of the Statement of Community Involvement (SCI) in the London Borough of Lambeth:

  1. Community involvement by the developers: local authorities should incentivise community involvement by the developers at early stages of planning activities at all costs and with all the parties, for instance assuring free publicity to presentations and events organised by builders and developers that submit planning applications, offering small council tax discounts to residents that participate in the process, voucher for free waste collection operations, promoting and liaising with professional bodies to raise living standards and the like. Making community involvement a commercially attractive activity and not a burden for developers seems the key point.
  2. Community alerting on planning applications: at present there is no email alerting service on planning applications. Such a service should be made by default available to everybody who registers for council tax purposes and notification of planning applications should be sent to everybody promoting the duty to co-operate.
  3. Consultation periods and methods of notification: consultation periods and engagement of neighbours should be expanded and never reduced. This should be an ongoing continuous process; that does not mean altering the timescale of decision making process or giving a veto power on the planning process to third parties, but instead means assuring that the planning process acquires vital strategic information at all times, managing risks of abuse of process by dodgy developers or other stakeholders and considering each property and each project as an asset.
  4. Engagement of statutory consultees: more investment should be made in order to engage with the statutory consultees as a way to strengthen the overall governance and institutional controls of public processes on reduced budget, to share information and to prevent frauds.
  5. Duty to cooperate: it should be promoted strongly with the Metropolitan Police Safe Neighbourhood groups, with local letting agents, architects and engineers and local charities in respect of breach of planning policies, defective premises exploitations, human trafficking and other matters of law enforcement so that proactive or very timely interventions can be put in place whenever builders or irresponsible landlords make a breach of planning permissions. This is because is generally acknowledged that after years of disrespect for planning rules it is very difficult to change the status quo; meanwhile, networks of abusive relationships have settled exploiting vulnerable people (disabled, illegal immigrants or other tenants that are not aware of the context, do not know the risks of renting defective premises or do not have any housing alternative for a number or reasons. Nonetheless, duty to cooperate should be promoted at any time and in any condition, especially in such situations when matters of housing and living standard arise. Architects and engineers should be engaged to find suitable solutions and pressurise ignorant or incapable landlords in order to accept the law and the necessary changes to internal or external parts of a building. Exploitations of tenants by landlords and council employees in order to sort out litigations over planning permissions should be highly discouraged as these arise to harassment, represent an obscene breach of human rights on the side of the authority that should instead protect people health, safety and peaceful social cohesion - and sanctioned vigorously.
  6. Community involvement: it should be an ongoing continuous process so that potential vital and critical information is gathered at all time, without jeopardise or compromise the efficiency of the planning decision making process. This is another measure that helps prevent criminal behaviours and frauds: in fact, sensitive information and roles of strategic stakeholders, witnesses or simply residents can be purposely hidden, held back or prevented from being disclosed through behavioural techniques and all sorts of expedients and reasons, in connection with important deadlines.
  7. Reporting back: the process should smooth and even abolish the idea of stages and allow everybody to report back at all times. The Statement of Community Involvement should set out not only 'which bodies and persons were invited to make representations' but also how to be inclusive of different and unknown perspectives that are relevant for residents, businesses and even third parties, how to prevent such open process to be abused and how to remain transparent at all times.
  8. Be aware of cybercrime risks: generic email communication alone are NOT a reliable medium of communication for planning consultations purposes. Email messages can be easily faked and should not be used as the only way to deliver neighbour notifications and obtain neighbours opinions.
  9. Printed newsletter, leaflets, local papers and public notices: these could be integrated by communications through social media. Online links, documents and photos on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc represent a cheaper and effective way to advertise documentation on planning matters and to expose wrongdoing. And yet local papers are not necessarily seen by residents who are commuters and do not read local papers nor visit local shops nor have engaged with any local social media business. Summary leaflets and newsletters, in spite of their effectiveness, have high printing and delivery / distribution costs. Therefore it is preferable to adopt electronic versions and invite people to subscribe online so that costs can be gradually reduced.
  10. Direct communications with residents: the local authority planning department could use a more flexible integration and use of phone communications and face to face meetings, visits in person, video communications and partnerships with NHS surgeries, local shops and other places of congregation to get in touch with residents and stimulate engagement on planning permissions - especially when redevelopment, regeneration or housing issues are at stake.

What's next?

Will the new NPPF succeed or will it be capsized by the next Government? Mostly depends on local government implementations and effective businesses and citizens participation. But above all, I believe the success of such huge change will depend on the willingness and capability to effectively redesign a process, make it more open, inclusive and transparent but also more productive, efficient, fair and accountable at any stage. It all starts making easier to change.

Post scriptum: On the 23 September 2015 the London Borough of Lambeth adopted a revised Statement of Community Involvement (SCI) accessible here together with the schedule of representations. On the 25 November 2015 I was evicted from my studio flat, that I had rented on the private market in 2012 recovering from a previous disastrous housing experience, after the landlord had been fined over 400,000£ for lack of a certificate of legal development and illegal lettings. I lived in hostels for almost eight months, developed an autoimmune disease, lost all of my belongings. I do not know when I will be ready to speak and write about my homelessness experience but I know I will never respond again to any public consultation by the local authority.