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by Joe Berkhout 7th May, 2019
3 min read

Council level political audits: how GK can help

Local politics at a council level can be unpredictable, and its effect of on planning decisions is often underappreciated. Whereas planning officers provide advice on applications, elected councillors are ultimately responsible for decision making. Promising plans can fall at the final hurdle without the right insight into local authority decision making processes, leadership priorities and the character of key stakeholders.

Further to this, and of particular relevance to more controversial schemes, it is important to manage external factors that could sway decisions against the desired outcome and promote those that increase likelihood of success.

These factors vary hugely across the UK – in some councils there will be influential local media sceptical of large developments, in others there will be powerful resident groups who have the ear of key decision makers. For this reason, it is important to take a holistic approach to political engagement around planning decisions. That is to say that besides obvious cabinet and ward councillor engagement, it pays to analyse the weight of secondary influencers.

The GK Method

GK help businesses to manage these complexities by painting a clear picture of political opportunities and risks at a local authority level. To do this, we compile a comprehensive report for the site in question, beginning at local authority level and drilling down into the relevant ward, to tease out potential threats and opportunities to the application. Here is a short overview of the key audiences.

Leader

The priorities of the council leadership can filter down into planning decisions. For example, if a leader has run a successful campaign focusing on the need for more affordable housing, engagement should be focused on appealing to this, and should look to provide the leader with an outcome that they can frame as a political win.

Planning Committee

The relationship of planning officers and the planning committee is crucial to understand, as it informs where engagement is likely to be most effective. If the committee tends to agree the recommendations of officers, it places emphasis on making the case to the officers, and vice versa. For the report, we trawl through committee records to ensure that we understand the balance of power and advise accordingly.

Media

Local media coverage is important to manage, as councillors are likely to read local news stories on relevant developments. Understanding who the most important local journalists are and what their interests are likely be will go a long way in securing positive local coverage.

Third Sector

Local interest groups have the power to scupper development plans if not identified and managed correctly. For this, it is vital to understand what potential issues any group may have with proposed developments before engaging with them. This is done by researching previous cases where they have intervened in plans and understanding the motivations of important members.

Getting to work

This analysis forms the basis for a recommended engagement strategy in the council. This will include which councillors to approach, how to run the public consultation and when to speak to local media outlets. On top of this, we provide advice on which messages will be most effective with the different audiences. All of this helps maximise the chances of a successful decision.

See more articles by Joe Berkhout