• 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


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.


13th February 2020

“The planning system is broken, and it needs fixing fast”

Reshuffles come and reshuffles go. And so indeed do Chancellors. But what really needs analysing is not “who’s in, and who’s out”, but what new Ministers do when they have power, and what their appointment may mean in terms of actual policy and delivery. Nowhere is this more so than in the world of planning.

Whether you are for HS2 or against it, at least we’ve got a decision. And respect to the PM for having the cojones to make one. But even the most ardent supporters of the project will be scratching their heads as to how it can then take so long to deliver the project and actually get the trains running. Why?

Let’s cut to the chase. Britain has a planning problem. And not just in terms of HS2. Longevity, lifestyles, prosperity – it all suggests we need more houses. Dramatic shifts in the world of retail demand a fundamental reappraisal of the role of the High Street. But to what? We all eat out much more. Will Netflix kill the cinema, can small shops survive? So it goes on. None of it is simple and there is no quick fix.

But Britain is quickly growing weary of successive Governments of all hues that promise “fundamental changes to the planning process” and then deliver virtually nothing. The Conservative Party is fast running out of excuses. Its been in power for nearly ten years and is likely to be there for at least another four plus. Housing target numbers are plucked from the air and then ignored with equal alacrity. Meanwhile prices creep up, and homes, particularly for young people, become ever less affordable. And the sacking of Esther McVey and appointment of Chris Pincher today means we have had TEN, yes TEN, Housing Ministers in the last TEN years. Hardly confidence instilling.

A few years back it was all about localism and putting communities in charge. Was this a genuine attempt to empower local people, or the Government passing the buck and dodging difficult decisions? And how does this policy relate to the realities of the local elections cycle and the chaos that can then ensue – witness the emerging shambles in places like South Oxfordshire and the potential for this to be replicated in other areas such as North Somerset.

The fact that the incumbent, the well-regarded Robert Jenrick, has kept his job in today’s re-shuffle should be an encouraging sign and an indicator of progress to come. The determination of metro-Mayors such as Andy Street in the West Midlands to tackle head on the brownfield dilemma and force the Government to help address it is a huge signpost to the developers that regeneration and profit can walk hand in hand. But much more needs to be done, Nimbyism and the Green Belt issue have to be tackled head on and some difficult decisions have to be made.

Step one needs to be huge Government support for addressing the brownfield issue right across the country, including, and not just, in the North and the Midlands. And step two has to be to bring immediate order to the developing chaos across the world of local government planning.

There will be much more detail to come. The next electoral test is in May 2020 – and the fact that the biggest contest is the London Mayoralty is not good news for Johnson. Last week London was his Achilles Heel.

So we welcome today’s reappointment of young Mr Jenrick. We hope he will show some steel, flex some muscle, and taking a lead from the PM, show some cojones!


20th December 2019

Parliament – changed. Conservative Party – changed. Policy – we’re about to find out.

There can be little doubt that the 2019 General Election was one of those game changers that come along once or perhaps twice in a generation. Think 1945, or 1983, or 1997 (and for the longer-term historians add in 1906 and 1931). The electoral map of Britain has been redrawn, the geo-political focus has shifted dramatically, the Labour Party is on its’ knees and the Liberal Democrats are somewhere beyond that.

In simple terms, and certainly in the short term, Boris Johnson is all powerful. Not only has he vanquished his opposition party foes, but he has purged his own party of dissent. Over 100 of his 365 strong Parliamentary Party are newly elected. In terms of political engagement, at the moment the Conservative Party is the only party that matters. Those who remember the PM’s bizarre “I love building buses” interview might understand the analogy that says, “right now, if you aren’t on the Boris bus, you aren’t going anywhere!”

All politicians have their eye on the next election, and no PM wats to go down as a “one-win wonder”. Accordingly, everything the new PM does will be focussed on “repaying the people’s trust.” Boris was pretty honest in saying: “you have lent me your vote and I want it again next time”. By signalling that there will be no post December 2020 extension request, he was not only sending a message to his “Get Brexit Done” supporters, he was also sending a message to his fellow European Leaders that he means business all round. Getting Brexit done is his undoubted number one priority. And then he will move on.

The NHS, long term social care (the two are likely to be ever more closely intertwined), supporting the police in terms of both numbers and sentencing, and schools will feature high on his agenda. At some stage he is going to have to look at student finance – one rare area of bad performance was in university towns and cities. But he will also need to focus on the issues of climate change and the environment – and what these mean at a local level.

That’s why in the Queen’s Speech delivered today we hear that the government will "continue to take steps to meet the world-leading target of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050" and "lead the war in tackling global climate change, hosting the COP26 Summit in 2020".

This will tie in with big infrastructure projects – shifting travellers from car to train and tram for example. And it will mean a further focus on political and geographic devolution. There will be more Andy Streets and Andy Burnhams, with more power and more money to invest. The Government will "give communities more control over how investment is spent so that they can decide what is best for them". And they are pledged to prioritise investment in infrastructure and science research and skills "in order to unleash productivity and improve daily life for communities across the country".

And Boris knows we have to build more houses. Today the Government has pledged to build a million new homes over the lifetime of this Parliament (that’s over 200k a year) and has set aside £10bn for new infrastructure, including schools, roads and GP surgeries as part of this.

First-time buyers and key sector workers will be offered a minimum 30 per cent discount on new homes in their local area under Government proposals for a major “First Homes” building programme. Under the plans, which will go out to consultation, the properties will remain discounted “in perpetuity” by covenant. In theory this must all be good news for the house building industry. But what about changes to planning law? The current system simply isn’t delivering.

So as ever with Queen’s Speeches, an awful lot of fine words. But todays seems to be particularly light on detail – perhaps a product of it being delivered with almost indecent haste? But the Government will never be more powerful than for the next few months –there is no effective opposition apart from Nicola Sturgeon’s SNP, who by definition exist to be fixated on Scotland.

There will be much more detail to come. The next electoral test is in May 2020 – and the fact that the biggest contest is the London Mayoralty is not good news for Johnson. Last week London was his Achilles Heel.

For business, understanding this Government‘s direction of travel and priorities is fundamental. And so is being close enough to Government to both grasp and influence the detail as it comes.


22nd November 2019

No-one can say they weren’t warned – the real and present danger!
“It’s all there in black (or is it red) and white!”

Labour’s planned assault on the education sector was trailed several weeks back, with stories of potential asset sequestration, enforced school closures and just this week thinly veiled threats that this would extend from the traditional Labour target of public and private schools into the world of free schools and academies.

In an earlier blog, here at Facultas, we talked about how this needs to be viewed as part of a wider “direction of travel”. If you’re a fan of “Big Government”, if you agree that the State knows best, and if nationalisation and centralisation are your thing, then yesterday’s Labour manifesto launch didn’t disappoint. Their manifesto is seen as the biggest planned re-boot of Socialism for at least a generation – with widescale nationalisation at its core. Rail and mail are scheduled to be taken back into Government ownership, and for schools the future looks grim. The manifesto spells out:

Responsibility for delivery of education and support for young people will sit with local authorities, they will manage admissions, and have responsibility for school places, including power to open schools.

We will end the fragmentation and marketisation of our school system by bringining free school meals and academies back under control of the people who know them best - parents, teachers and local communities.

So that message is clear, local government will be at the heart of the re-nationalisation programme. Decision making and management control will revert to County and City Hall, where locally elected politicians will once again assume the reins of power – with all the implications that may hold. When one looks at the excesses and shenanigans of many local authorities, the prospect is truly frightening. And should your local Labour candidate try and tell you different, please do quote them directly from their manifesto:

We will close the tax loopholes enjoyed by elite private schools and use that money to improve the lives of all children, and we will ask the Social Justice Commission to advise on integrating private schools and creating a comprehensive system.

For public/private schools, the warning is even more grizzly. What starts as a long-recited mantra about “tax loopholes” – i.e. VAT and charitable status, quickly gallops onto the big threat – the integration of private schools into a comprehensive system – dangerously dressed up in the name of Social Justice.

Word has already reached us at Facultas of at least one Labour MP with an outstanding public school in her constituency who tries to deny any of this is for real. The best advice we can offer the parents, governors and staff of that school – and those in Sixth Form who will be voting for the first time, is to ask her if she has read her own Party’s manifesto?


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