Involving children in planning and decision making

13 Feb 24

I recently joined the Iceni Engagement and Place team and have been impressed with the efforts the team have placed in engaging with children and young people whilst supporting clients. Recent consultations demonstrated a commitment to seeking views of an important, but often overlooked demographic, delivering social value through the work.

Whilst the team are committed to engaging across communities and skilled in delivering creative opportunities, it has led me to think how far planning policy considers the needs of children in decision making.

Findings from the RTPI sponsored review ‘Child Friendly Planning in the UK’ states that with national planning policies, ‘…children are currently most visible through their absence’[1].

The National Planning Policy Framework encourages authorities and applicants to effectively engage with local communities at an early stage. However, there are no expectations for this pre-application engagement to include children and young people in this process, despite under 16’s making up 20% of the UK population[2].

As an engagement professional with over 10 years’ experience working in the built environment, I am all too familiar with decision making around proposals for new developments being dominated by a narrow age demographic, those with views that are not necessarily representative of the wider local community or the long-term future in which we are planning for. Traditional planning processes do not encourage the voices of the silent majority and without teams such as ours targeting children and young people in planning decision making, young vital voices are at risk of being unheard in the planning process.

Child-friendly town planning tends to focus on the provision of school, play and recreation facilities in new developments. However, there is no direct requirement for the need and wishes of children to be considered when planning and designing these spaces.

The RTPI has provided advice on how planning professionals can work with the UK planning system to positively plan for the needs of children and young people in their report ‘Children and Town Planning, creating places to grow’[3]. Ideas include engaging with young people at the scoping stage, publishing supplementary planning on children and using child-friendly policies in plans. Given the nature of planning work, some of these will take some time to deliver real change and most projects take time to come to fruition. However, there are opportunities to include children in planning decision-making, such as with developments involving meanwhile spaces, so there is a clear visual impact of how their input has shaped a development.

From my experience, engaging with children in planning is an enjoyable and insightful process that allows us to view spaces in a different way to adults.

For anyone else interested in the topic, it’s worth following the DLUHC select committee inquiry into children, young people and the built environment, launched late 2023, looking at how better planning, buildings and urban design could enhance the health and well-being of children and young people. Part of the Inquiry will explore how children and young people’s voices are heard, considered and acted upon in the planning system, if at all.

I am looking forward to creating further opportunities for children and young people to get involved in planning and decision making and contributing to ongoing wider discussions across the sector.

[1] https://www.rtpi.org.uk/media/1568/childfriendlyplanningintheukareview2019.pdf

[2] https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/populationandmigration/populationestimates/articles/overviewoftheukpopulation/january2021

[3] https://www.rtpi.org.uk/practice/2021/july/children-and-town-planning-creating-places-to-grow/

Fareeda Ahmed Associate Director,Engagement