• Navigating the Politics of Planning

    Insight. Advocacy. Results.

    • Every time a local council determines a planning application, politics is at the heart of the decision-making process.
    • Successfully navigating the politics of planning will enhance your local reputation and help deliver your plans on time and on budget. Getting it wrong can prove costly in time, resources and reputation.
    • At Facultas, we support those seeking planning consent, often in conjunction with existing planning consultants and architects. We navigate the complexities of local politics and community relations.
    • We use our decades of hands-on political campaigning experience to help you to secure consent for new developments and for improvements to existing buildings and facilities.
    • The genesis of Facultas Associates came from advising major educational institutions, but we also support commercial developers in the efficient delivery of complex and potentially contentious schemes.

Facultas Education


Facultas Education works with ambitious schools, colleges and universities to help them secure planning permission in a timely manner to improve their learning environments.

The education market place is ever more competitive, with parents and students having increasing demands and ever greater expectations. Facultas seeks to help academic institutions to deliver the built resources that address these challenges.

Every deliberation by a local council about development proposals is part of a political decision-making process. In light of this, we support educational institutions – often in conjunction with existing planning consultants and architects – to navigate the complexities of local politics and community relations to help secure planning consent for desired improvements to their buildings and facilities.

When schools, colleges and universities seek changes to their physical assets, their plans are invariably time sensitive because of forthcoming academic and operational commitments - aligned with ever increasing expectations of parents and students. We recognise this, and our work is focused on reducing the risk and uncertainty associated with planning applications. We seek to maximise the prospects of securing planning consent at a local level, within timescales that match an institution’s requirements, and in doing so avoid the need for appeal.

Planning applications are determined by committees of locally-elected councillors. Our knowledge and experience in politics enables us to:

  • Offer insight on the political and community issues affecting their decisions, which may impact to our client’s proposals;
  • Provide advocacy of the institution’s proposals, in a local context, to make a persuasive case;
  • Help secure results – i.e. achieving a majority vote by local councillors to grant consent.

This work is supported by a comprehensive programme of stakeholder and community engagement, complemented by targeted communications, as part of a strategic approach to securing the desired outcome.

We also work with educational institutions to develop innovative proposals that boost both the viability of a scheme and the prospects of securing consent. This includes liaising with interested house builders, developers, councils, other schools (both independent and state sector), sports clubs and a variety of key stakeholders within the communities that neighbour, support and serve our educational institutions.

Facultas Commercial


Facultas Commercial supports commercial property owners by helping them to secure planning permission.

We work alongside existing planning consultants and architects, as well as in-house teams, to navigate the complexities of local politics and community relations in order to secure planning consent for both new developments and improvements to existing facilities.

Our work is focused on reducing the risk and uncertainty associated with planning applications. We seek to maximise the prospects of securing planning consent at a local level, within timescales that match the developer’s requirements, and in doing so seek to avoid the need for appeal.

We offer support for developers from their initial concept through to development, to manage risk surrounding planning applications, enabling projects to progress efficiently with stakeholder and public support.

Our collective experience and leadership in local government, in political campaigning, and in banking and finance makes Facultas Associates uniquely suited to provide a joined-up approach in support of a developer’s plans.

Our knowledge and experience in politics enables us to:

Offer insight on the political and community issues affecting their decisions, which may impact to our client’s proposals
Provide advocacy of the developer’s proposals, in a local context, to make a persuasive case
Help secure results – i.e. achieving a majority vote by local councillors to grant consent
This work is supported by a comprehensive programme of stakeholder and community engagement, complemented by targeted communications, as part of a strategic approach to securing the desired outcome.

Communications


Fundamental to the Facultas approach is world-class strategic communications. We will support you in reaching, engaging with and winning the support of opinion formers, decision makers, communities and local stakeholders.

We will work with you to create the strategies to deploy, the narratives to create and the messages to transmit to ensure that your plans are successful.

At no stage will an effective communications strategy matter more than when you want to do something “big”. Most new developments, whether residential, commercial or for example new school sports facilities, will be controversial if not handled in the right way. Applicants must ensure that they don’t fall into the trap of treating their communications strategy as an adjunct or an afterthought. The golden rule is that “you never get a second chance to make a first impression”.

Using our experience of political communication we help deliver the story that our clients wish to tell, to the audiences that matter, deploying effective,  targeted and modern communication channels.

Team


Charles Barwell OBE

Chairman

Charles Barwell is one of the UK’s most experienced charity trustees with more than 25 consecutive years of trusteeship for leading institutions in the education and culture sectors...
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David Pugh

Planning & Development Director

David Pugh is an experienced and successful public affairs professional, drawing on his many years of frontline political involvement locally and nationally – including extensive participation in planning and education issues...
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Mike Dolley

Chief Operating Officer

Mike Dolley is one of the UK’s most experienced campaign directors. In 2010 he was Deputy Director of Campaigning for the Conservative campaign that saw David Cameron become Prime Minister...
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Our Network

We have an extensive network of associates across the UK to provide us with the background, the detail, the political backdrop and comprehensive media analysis. It is attention to detail and a holistic understanding of every aspect of a story that will ensure our clients achieve the best possible outcomes as they move forward with their plans. Our network of associates means we can plug in at a very local – and where necessary micro – level.



Blog


Mike Dolley 1959-2021

It is with deep regret and great sadness that the Directors of Facultas Associates announce the death of one of our founding directors: Mike Dolley. Mike died on 9th April 2021 after a battle with cancer that he bore bravely and with great stoicism.

Mike was the inspiration for the founding of Facultas. His twenty-five year career in frontline politics in the UK was complemented by strategic campaigning experience in some of the most challenging regions of the world. He supported presidents, would be presidents, prime ministers, the United Nations and the African Union through an extraordinary career of which Facultas has been the final chapter.

Mike’s ability to get his client’s message across to the right audiences in the most effective format was legendary.

He counted amongst his greatest achievements the election of Andy Street as Mayor of the West Midlands Combined Authority where he was brought in to be campaign director, and his role leading the UN’s largest communications project in Somalia in 2013 when he was based in Nairobi and Mogadishu. He also had global political impact in advising HE President Uhuru Kenyatta, HE President Rupiah Banda of Zambia, and the Kurdistan Democratic Party across Kurdistan and Iraq. Mike led the Conservative Party’s campaign strategy for the successful 2010 General Election campaign which resulted in David Cameron becoming UK Prime Minister.

We will miss him more than words can say. Mike was larger than life, full of enthusiasm and wise counsel, and the best man we could hope to know. We send his children Edward and Elizabeth our deepest condolences, and much love.

But as Mike would say, the show must go on. Facultas continues, as we carry on what he started.


3rd March 2021

“Build Back Better” says the Chancellor in his budget, but get ready to pay for it too.

Let’s not be unrealistic about today’s Budget. It was never going to go into detail in terms of the development industry, housebuilding and planning processes. It was always going to be about how the Government steers the good ship United Kingdom back onto a post pandemic, post Brexit direction of travel. And it would be unfair to criticise the Chancellor for adopting the approach he has.

The word housing appears just 5 times in the 26,000-word Build Back Better document published today by the Government to accompany the budget. You can read it here. On a very positive note, those who have stuck with it over Green and Renewable energy projects, will find a whole heap of encouragement, and that is something here at Facultas we very much see continuing.

But what the commercial world will be digesting is the business impact of the policies announced; short, medium and long term. So, for many there will be sighs of relief over policies relating to furlough, tax breaks and the absorption of historic financial losses. There will be food for thought in terms of how today’s Budget impacts business planning, and there will undoubtedly be major concerns for many as to the impact of a huge planned hike in the rate of Corporation Tax. A cynic might look at it and say, “interesting its flagged for 2023, does that mean next year he might wind it back a couple of points?”

But of course, in terms of business confidence, the damage is done the minute a figure is announced. Time alone will tell. And as we all know, it’s not what is said about a Budget when the Chancellor sits down, but how it plays out over the ensuing days of media analysis and scrutiny.


5th February 2021

Local Elections, 2021. Will they take place and do they matter?

If one believes the flurry of Government announcements and activity today, then the local elections scheduled for the 6th May 2021 are set to go ahead. They will be the biggest ever single day round of local democratic contests, because in many parts of the country this will be a “two for one” event, mopping up all the elections which should have taken place last year but which were scrapped as the threat of COVID moved from media speculation to reality.

We will have contests for Metro-Mayors, Police and Crime Commissioners, County Councils and an array of District and Unitary Council seats scattered all over the country and including for example the entirely new entity of Buckinghamshire Council – a brand new unitary authority replacing the former County Council and the four District Councils that shared responsibility for the administration of the county.

The Government seems absolutely determined to make these elections happen despite a host of siren voices (including some Conservative Council leaders) cautioning against them. Whether this is a determination to demonstrate that the country is returning to normality, whatever that may now look like, or whether it is a cynical ploy to cash in on a post vaccine bounce remains to be seen. But the decision is not without a gamble element. If they go badly for Johnson he will be forced to explain to defeated Councillors and ex-Council Leaders why they were sacrificed in an election he could quite legitimately have postponed, and if the turnout is low there is an issue of legitimacy. A hugely increased postal vote could be bad news for the Tories – though not necessarily so. An all postal ballot would have spelt disaster.

Interestingly the Government seems determined to garner the support of the Electoral Commission who are producing some rather low key and half-hearted propaganda making the case for a safe election. It was the Electoral Commission who finally torpedoed last year’s contest, though perhaps worthy of note is the fact that the debate went on until the 13th March 2020 before the poll was finally called off. And of course, that decision was proved right – by the end of the first week of May the country was pretty much paralysed by Lockdown 1, with daily fatality statistics at a level that outstripped even the worst predictions of just a few weeks earlier.

The reality is that despite today’s announcement, the Government can still pull or postpone a May 6th poll if events transpire to make such a decision necessary. The legal timetable for a May 6th poll commences on March 29th. The announcement today is a statement of intent, driven largely by politics rather than any particular desire to fulfil a democratic requirement. We have yet to see rioters in the street demanding a 6th May poll – frankly it sits pretty low in the public list of priorities. One for the “political village” perhaps?

And if you are a developer or investor does it really matter? Is the lack of elections an impediment to your business plans or have we already demonstrated that actually the vast majority of people are just quietly “getting on with it” – Planning Committee meetings held by Teams or Zoom, online public consultation and an enhanced use of social media to make the case for or against.

Here at Facultas we think it does ultimately matter – because at some stage the political ownership and direction of these Councils has to be determined so that would be investors can make judgements as to where Councils may be most sympathetic to their aspirations. The District and Unitary councils are of course the planning authority, but County Councils impact the decision making process hugely. And elected Mayors have huge influence with Government in setting the direction of progress. Just look at what Andy Street has achieved in the West Midlands in terms of brown field regeneration.

If one word (other than democracy) captured the business need for these elections to take place it might well be “certainty”. Today’s announcement makes the likelihood of a May 6th poll look significantly greater. But ironically, it still isn’t certain.


20th May 2020

David Pugh: After the crisis, we need to continue with flexible planning policies to boost economic recovery

Up and down the country, local authorities are playing a leading role in supporting households, businesses, and community organisations as they seek to navigate the unprecedented times we face. Upper-tier authorities are also overseeing the delivery of vital frontline services such as social care and public health, and all councils are partners in county-wide local resilience forums, which have a key co-ordinating role as the pandemic continues.

My own local authority – the Isle of Wight Council – has, amongst other things, set up a dedicated helpline for vulnerable residents and allocated its own resources to support third sector organisations and parish councils in providing grassroots support to households across the Island.

The Government is rightly taking a cautious approach, not least as it is keen to avoid a second wave of the pandemic. But the current measures will be eased, and we will see a gradual return to some form of normality. And when it does happen, we can expect a bounce back in economic growth. The co-operation of councils will be critical.

With over 300 local planning authorities (LPAs) in England alone, each one of these councils is well placed to use its development management functions to facilitate growth at a local level. Businesses should be supported – where possible – in any plans that will help secure the future of existing industry and jobs, and also where growth and additional employment is proposed.

England’s Chief Planner said recently that local authorities should “prioritise decision-making to ensure the planning system continues to function, especially where this will support the local economy”. Thanks to new powers handed to councils last month, public decision-making (by elected members) can now take place remotely – and this includes meetings of planning committees to determine applications for development. A live tracker published by planning consultancy Lichfields – in partnership with the Government-backed Planning Advisory Service (PAS) – shows how individual councils are adapting to ensure that development management functions continue.

So how might this look in practice, and what role can local politicians play?

Firstly, lead members must ensure that systems are put in place to ensure that planning committees can meet virtually – with minimal delay to regular schedules. PAS (using the resources of the Local Government Association (LGA)) has provided guidance and best practice to help councils get these systems up and running as quickly as possible. The Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea hosted England’s first fully virtual planning committee on 9th April, and there is no reason why this cannot be swiftly replicated across the country.

Secondly, lead members for planning should ask officers to identify which live applications could broadly be defined as supporting the local economy, and then prioritise the resolution of any outstanding issues, with a view to approving under delegated powers or – if necessary – recommending approval to a planning committee meeting in the near future. If there are details which still need to be finessed, these can – where possible – be subject to conditions and / or a legal agreement which would then be finalised prior to implementation. The key thing is to signal that the LPA is enabling the development, and will work pro-actively with the applicant to ensure it can go ahead. It may, of course, be that the applicant isn’t yet (because of supply and construction restrictions, if not finance issues) in a position to implement the consent – but having a decision notice will at least allow them to start preparing for when they are.

Thirdly, councils should look at schemes which have been subject to pre-application discussions in the past year and – subject to the broad acceptability of the proposals – encourage applications to be submitted in the near future, with a view to progressing such plans to a decision in the coming months, to enable development to take place once the lockdown is eased or lifted.

Fourthly, planning departments should consider whether applications which are “departures” from the agreed Local Development Plan should be approved. Such proposals, by their very nature, run partially or wholly contrary to the planning policy framework, but councils do have the discretion – where it can be justified – to make such departures. For instance, this could be to allow a scheme which is for economic development in a location which is not allocated for such a purpose, and / or on a scale which might be considered to be out of keeping. In addition, councils may wish to consider whether “very special circumstances” exist which outweigh any perceived harm to the Green Belt, or similar such designations. Of course, such considerations must still be made entirely within the parameters of the quasi-judicial planning process, but councils should not shy away from recognising that the current unprecedented circumstances provide a context which could reasonably justify a bolder-than-usual approach.

It is essential that the potential concerns of the immediate locality are taken into account when considering such development proposals. Town halls are now taking a revised approach to community consultation to ensure this continues to happen.

Finally, both planning authorities and the Government may need to look afresh at what local and national planning policies respectively are in place as we emerge from the pandemic. It is difficult to see how the high street can recover from the current crisis without radical change; just as those of us living in destination parts of the country recognise that it will be difficult for many visitor accommodation owners to continue trading as they were. In short, we may need to look at how existing commercial premises are given the opportunity to convert to residential (or flexible mixed uses) much more easily than they currently can.

What is needed is decisive political leadership locally, backed up by reforms from the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government (MHCLG) to empower LPAs to use the planning system to drive economic growth. The Government could accelerate its forthcoming Planning White Paper – and the resulting reforms – to start making interim changes (that respond to the challenges arising from the pandemic) in the coming weeks and months.

This could, for instance, include giving discretion to LPAs to reduce or waive planning fees for applications that relate to economic development, subject to implementation timescales being imposed with any permission granted. MHCLG also needs to make sure that any proposed decisions that are referred to Whitehall’s Planning Casework Unit – for potential call-in by the Secretary of State – are handled swiftly, with a continued strong presumption in favour of local decision-making, thereby allowing councils to proceed to issue consent.

Local government can rise to the challenge and became a key enabler for post-pandemic economic growth. There may not yet be the business confidence – or even the ability – to proceed with implementing planning permission, but councils can use their powers to ensure that developers and investors are able to do so once the lockdown is eased. We are already seeing many examples of best practice in local authorities across the country, including in the use of their development management functions. It is now time for the political leadership of all councils – with the backing of Ministers – to harness the power of planning in the weeks and months ahead.


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