The shifting of power from the central state to local and sub-local arenas of governance (labelled as localism or decentralisation) is a common feature of many 21st-century democracies, popular with both the “left” and “right” in political terms. A common justification for this is that it is assumed to be “more democratic” than the alternative. The superficiality of this assumption, however, conceals much tension and complexity, not least potential tensions between different variants of “democracy”. This paper explores this tension and complexity using the example of the new neighbourhood planning powers in England, introduced through the 2011 Localism Act, which combine representative and direct forms of democracy, and promote public participation. We will argue that whilst opening up new channels for democratic participation by citizens, the reforms introduced in 2011, and similar moves towards decentralisation of (planning) powers elsewhere, may be insufficiently cognisant of power dynamics at the local and community scales, leading to various sets of tensions between the actors involved. We conclude that how the actors respond to these tensions will have a strong influence on the success or otherwise of this experiment with planning and democracy.
- neighbourhood planning
- participatory governance