Neighbourhood Planning: Are we missing the point?

By Pat Jones - on 14/09/2012

HACT's Partnerships and Insight Manager Pat Jones discusses the opportunities that new neighbourhood planning rights present and why creativity there is a need for providers to think creatively.

For months now we’ve researched, deliberated, discussed, unscrambled and tried to imagine just what neighbourhood planning can mean for our communities.

Some of the less engaged housing providers and developers we talk to are not convinced that Neighbourhood Planning offers anything different to the status quo.

Why bother with all that when we can just transfer assets” they protest and: “What’s new? We’ve been doing this for years in our local project initiatives programme.”

In June I attended one of the Building Community Consortium’s Planning Camps led by Locality. Along with some of the 200+ front runner projects, I was unexpectedly inspired by the creativity, the local knowledge; the willingness to participate and to share experiences that buzzed around the room. Apart from evidence of the huge scope for consultation that maps, models, drawings, online mapping and social networking offer; the enthusiasm the Camp produced could have powered a sizeable off-grid generator! There were certainly ideas there for our asset management and community engagement teams to reach beyond land use issues alone in working together to capitalise on the assets of both people and place.

And yes, successful Neighbourhood Planning does rely on partnership working: A supportive local authority is worth its weight in town and country planning archives and every community participant made it plain that collaboration was essential; that no housing provider, local authority, underused asset owner or neighbourhood forum could achieve the same holistic approach on their own.  As one urban designer pointed out , a neighbourhood plan is a means not an end and the mileage is in the process not the delivery.

The vision of Neighbourhood Forums and Parishes was a testimony to the well-used adage that because the community knows their own place best it is best placed to advise what to do with ‘left-over’ green spaces, and where exactly the centres, entrepreneurial energy and the purpose of the neighbourhood lie.

It seems to me that Neighbourhood Planning offers unrestrained opportunity for housing providers to raise their community investment game from the funded project merry-go-round to a strategy that involves residents in problem and solution to create stability and maximise resources (including the talents and ideas of their residents) at a time when both are in short supply.

For housing providers to make it work, it needs to be seen as an activity and responsibility that stretches beyond the community engagement team. There is a lot of relevant expertise to be found in development teams as well (who may also be interested in the opportunities it offers). Most housing providers concede that community investment is a team sport but the distinction in Neighbourhood Planning is its offer of an alternative route to achieving sustainability and social justice where a long history of area-based regeneration strategies have relied for impact on their ability to lever in external resources . It provides real potential for housing providers to integrated approaches to community within their own organisations.

This is an ‘approach’, my colleague insists, not a ‘project’ as she co-designs and plans (with the local community – who else) some of the most innovative and sustainable anti-poverty strategies in diverse and deprived neighbourhoods of her Borough.

Neighbourhood Planning; Community Rights to Build


Neighbourhood planning means learning together

Thanks for these insights Pat, I agree with you that there are opportunities here for housing providers to further build up their inclusive work. As you say, neighbourhood planning is not a complete reinvention of the wheel! But of course the new system needs to be negotiated by new groups of people - communities, housing providers and local authorities - and everyone is learning. It's interesting that you highlight the creativity that is bubbling up as a result. It echoes what I have seen of communities' neighbourhood planning activities in my local area (non-front runner groups alike!). Given the volume of information and diversity of evidence being produced, it reinforces my belief that we need to share experiences and learn together. We don't know what the individual challenges are for anyone, but in my view some of the main problems involve deciding who should take the initiative? When should a provider approach a community? How can a community kick start the process? I'd be very interested to hear what other peoples experiences are of this type of issue.

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