Neighbourhood Planning

If you haven’t yet heard about the changes to the planning system as a result of the Government’s new Localism Bill (have you been living under a rock?), then allow me to refer to the plain english guide published on The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG)’s website. The Bill includes, amongst other things, “reform to make the planning system more democratic and more effective”.

The word ‘democratic’ is the operative one in that particular description. To expand a little further, the main change is that regional planning strategies are being scrapped.

“These regional strategies created in 2004 set out where new development needs to take place in each part of the country. They include housing targets for different areas, set by central government.”

So the Localism Bill turns this on its head and aims to make a major change in the way that local communities can influence development in their area.

“Instead of local people being told what to do, the Government thinks that local communities should have genuine opportunities to influence the future of the places where they live. The Bill will introduce a new right for communities to draw up a “neighbourhood development plan”.

That’s it in a nutshell. Local people can come together to create their own neighbourhood plan which, when approved in a local referendum, can then passed on to developers, thus ensuring that local people are getting exactly what they want. Sounds good, huh?

(If you were to ask anyone who works in Planning and the Built Environment about it, they would probably tell you that it has numerous flaws, but those particular clauses and revisions are being thrashed out in the House of Lords this very afternoon as I write this blog post. Latest news here.)

So what’s next? Well, the Bill is due to be passed and since it was introduced, the DCLG have already shared a pot of cash across 40 forward-thinking community groups to act as ‘Front Runners’ in drawing up a their Neighbourhood Plan – and there are more to come. The Government also understand that drawing up a plan is quite a task, and have appointed 4 support organisations. These are the people to go to to provide free guidance and support to communities when they are drawing up their plans

Previously, a developer might draw up plans with an architect, a planning consultant and an urban designer (and a whole host of other consultants too no doubt). They’d produce something that they deemed to be viable in terms of its context, design, commercial value, environmental impact etc. The plans would go to to the planning authority and local communities would be consulted as part of the planning process, however, as this system is essentially being reversed it means that those of us working in the built environment have to change tack.

This is where my current freelance project comes in.

I’m doing some work with Slider Studio. They have been successful in obtaining funding from the Government’s Technology Strategy Board to carry out a feasibility study into the use of digital platforms for Neighbourhood Planning. Slider Studio are a multi-disciplinary practice for architecture, software and digital media and this feasibility study will involve working with regional architecture centres, local authorities and community groups to develop ideas for web-based platforms that support the opportunities given to communities through the Bill.

We have spent the last few weeks investigating online tools that already exist to help enhance communication within community groups, and support consultation events so they reach as wide an audience as possible. As part of our research we are organising some workshops with community groups, planners and local authority represenatives, housing associations, the organisations who support neighbourhood planning and professional consultants. The workshops are taking place at MADE in Birmingham and we are encouraging anyone with any interest in Neighbourhood Planning to come along and talk to us about the process, their role and how a dedicated online platform could enhance and support a community group.

If you have an interest, do please sign up, come along and join in the conversation.

http://youcanplan.eventbrite.com/

If you can’t make it along to the workshops, we’re going to be holding an event at the end of July to share what we’ve learned along the way.

[update: we are also holding a London-based workshop on 15th July at Urban Design London. Book your place now: http://londonyoucanplan.eventbrite.com/]