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Meaningful consultation 'can counter public-private partnership mistrust'

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Local authorities must look to involve their local communities fully in any public-private partnership (PPP) if they are to work well, according to the chief executive of one regeneration development firm.

Matthew Weiner, CEO of U+I, told LGC of the need to “not just pay lip service to consultation” in order to counter the public’s natural scepticism towards any corporate use of public land.

“Communities are right to be cynical, especially in scenarios where consultation is done after the planning process has completed - that just makes a mockery of the system,” he said.

Chancellor Philip Hammond announced at the Budget he remained “committed to the use of public-private partnership where it delivers value for the taxpayer”, having also announced plans to abolish the use of private finance initiatives.

Speaking after the release of a consultation commissioned by U+I into the use of PPPs, Mr Weiner said he had seen a “grudging” acceptance of the need for partnership working emerge alongside a general sense of “mistrust” in the system.

The consultation found that while 78% of 2,173 respondents to a YouGov poll agreed unused public land should be used to provide housing for local communities, only 56% agreed it should be done in partnership with the private sector. Forty-five per cent of respondents expressed negative views over the use of PPPs to develop publicly owned land.

The six-month consultation, which drew responses from a wide variety of councils and local enterprise partnerships, as well as Homes England, found PPPs which continually involved the community were better able to counter mistrust.

Mr Weiner said communication should happen through a stakeholder leader, who must be seen as a respected member of the community.

“The local representative can’t be a politician or a developer, it must be someone in the community. If they vouch for the deal they can tackle the mistrust, but it must be someone that the community can respect,” he said.

This local leader would then lead a community panel, which could challenge the PPP in a similar manner to any existing resident scrutiny panel.

“The community naturally feels vulnerable in this process, so we think we should include them as part of the process,” Mr Weiner said.

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