DBE Users Panel
A Member commented that she was surprised that this Committee had not been made aware of the existence of this Panel or its remit previously. She also stressed that information on the Panel and how to become a member was lacking on the City’s Planning Portal pages. She reminded the Committee that she had therefore raised questions on this at previous meetings and thanked the Chief Planning Officer for having subsequently provided her with the necessary information and copies of recent minutes of Panel meetings.
The Member went on to state that it was very clear from looking at the original minutes of the first Panel meeting that it was quite defined in terms of ensuring that this forum was involved in developing the service, a means by which stakeholders could make input to and participate in the development of the services provided, a mechanism to obtain constructive and informal input through various users and planning services and feedback . However, minutes from Panel meetings held over the past two years appeared to make it clear that the remit of this group had morphed into something entirely different. She felt that it did not appear to be properly constituted and neither was it clear as to how people could join the Panel membership. In fact, it appeared that the Chair was reaching out to developers to ask that they join. The Member went on to state that it was clear that these meetings also took up a lot of Officer time with at least seven senior Officers in attendance. It seemed that Officers presented applications to the Panel as opposed to seeking their feedback as was the case previously. The Member was of the view that this Panel were, in some instances, better informed of the workings of the Department than this Committee.
The Member concluded by stating that she felt that now was an appropriate time to revisit this Panel, its purpose and stressed the need for greater transparency here. In terms of services and feedback, she suggested that it would be much easier to survey all that actually used the services. The Member questioned whether the Chair agreed that the DBE Users’ Panel should be replaced as a means of the DBE obtaining user feedback with questionnaires that can be sent regularly to all users, in view of the fact that the Panel meets infrequently, does not represent all users and had recently acted outside its remit.
The Chair clarified that the Panel had been established under the City’s Statement of Community Involvement in 2016 which was agreed and adopted by this Committee. The Chief Planning Officer reported that he had been present on the Panel for other ten years now and stated that he personally found it a very useful forum in which to share ideas and to inform what was happening. He agreed that the Panel had struggled in terms of being representative and inclusive and that those in day to day contact with the service such as agents and developers were in the majority. It was highlighted that residents were also represented on the Panel. The Chief Planning Officer went on to agree that now would be an appropriate time to fundamentally review the Panel and look again at how best to engage with all stakeholders given that DBE no longer existed as a department with a new, wider Environment Department with a wider remit now established. He reported that work on this was already being undertaken at present and that a key element of this would be a review of the Statement of Community Involvement. It was hoped that Officers would be in a position to report back to Committee on this in Autumn 2022 as to future options around receiving feedback about how engagement with various stakeholders could be improved. It was confirmed that there were no future meetings of the DBE Users Panel scheduled at present because of this more fundamental review taking place in the background.
The Chair added that he and the Deputy Chairman had also had extensive meetings with the Chief Planning Officer and various stakeholders in recent months and were therefore very aware of their views on the planning service generally. This would also be fed into the review process.
Another Member spoke to request that any future iteration of the Panel also include the major associations representing City residents such as the Barbican Association and the Golden Lane Estate Residents Association (GLERA) amongst its membership.
Another Member questioned why a survey that had been thoughtfully constructed and could be shared with all service users, including residents, would not be a better way of getting feedback than a Panel. He questioned whether this could be discussed further by the Committee in April. The Chief Planning Officer responded to state that a survey of this sort may be one of many ways to engage with users going forward and highlighted that surveys had been successfully used in the past. He reiterated that there was a more fundamental review of the Statement of Community Involvement being undertaken at present and that all options, including the use of surveys, could be explored as part of this work. The Chair also cautioned that surveys could be quite constrained in terms of the questions posed. Another Member stated that it was equally important to consider the target audience for such surveys. Other Members mentioned that the response rate on such surveys could also be disappointingly low.
With reference to the creation of the new, larger Environment Department, a Member stated that he hoped that the Statement of Community Involvement would not be amended to include the wider remit of the entire Department but would instead continue to focus on the core services overseen by this Committee. The Chief Planning Officer concurred with the need for focus but stated that this would ultimately be a decision for the Committee to take in due course. The Chair added that Statement of Community Involvement was a statutory process and needed to focus upon building control. Members were informed that this was a legal obligation and that there was also a legal obligation for the document to be reviewed periodically.
A Member stressed the need for clarity as to the objective here. If feedback on services was key then, in terms of being cost effective and reaching as wide an audience as possible, a survey would seem to be the best option. Consultation on projects such as Bank Junction were also usually survey based. If, however, the objective was to get to know stakeholders better, then a different approach might be needed. At present, it seemed that the two had morphed under the existing Users Panel. The Member went on to state that there was already a City Property Association which met regularly and fed into the services and Officers. Membership of this was open to all in the City who was a land owner or owned property which was what the current users Panel also seemed to be very ‘top heavy’ on. The Member also agreed that a further discussion on the objective here would be welcome at the next meeting of this Committee – what information was being sought, which organisations were the City currently working with and would a survey be a far easier and more effective means of gaining feedback from those using the service.