Neighbourhood plans are a great idea but they need to be easy to produce and comprehend. The more complex and dense neighbourhood plans are, the fewer of them there will be. Is there any route to a genuinely simple neighbourhood plan that engages people?
The government website says:
‘People have the right to get involved in development decisions that affect them but in practice they have often found it difficult to have a meaningful say.’
The government website goes on to say:
‘The plan can be detailed or general, depending what local people want.’
A ‘general’ plan sounds attractive – the opposite of the traditional detailed lawerly-wordy plan. From dozens of planning campaigns over the years I know people find it hard to engage with anything written in planning speak.
A quick canter through some of the existing ‘early’ neighbourhood plans driven by pathfinder areas (thanks so much to Much Wenlock for their list of links to neighbourhood plans) shows them to be well drafted, but long and dense documents. I can’t help but admire the huge amount of local social capital built and invested in these processes. But if every neighbourhood plan has to be like these then i can’t see many of them being produced, with popular engagement. That’s not to say that these early plans aren’t fine for their communities, but in my experience it’s hard to engage people in this sort of thing and to get the excellent officer/politician/citizenry combination these self selecting early projects exhibit.
So what might a simple ‘general’ plan look like that can easily connect with local people in large numbers. (By the way, if you are reading this and are trying to do one, please tell me in the comments).
A plan is a decision making framework for councillors and officers, within which they have discretion. A simpler ‘general’ plan suggests to my mind a more values driven framework from citizens that is easy to create and engage, then greater discretion for officers and politicians within it. The existing early plans almost all have a survey stage where questions are asked of local people. Can the survey result itself, with some judicious judgement exercised by local bodies to prevent hijack, almost become a simple, general neighbourhood plan? I am not of course, suggesting a direct internet democracy here there has to be some judicious oversight by local bodies to prevent abuse and to reach out to non-internet channels. The plan then provides simple values driven or emotive guidance to decision makers.
The early plans and the CLG-funded guidance documents point to a set of fairly common themes. So for fun I’ve created a sort of coffee break quiz as on off the shelf starter for a local plan. The sort of thing that could easily be set up as an internet quiz and promulgated by local websites and email lists. Get a big enough response then you may be 50% of the way to a neighbourhood plan. This quiz isn’t intended to be entirely serious, as you can see by the phrasing but I am interested to see what a simple, ‘general’ plan might look like. All suggestions welcome.
|Old buildings||Away with the old||Restore and reuse|
|New houses||Small starter homes||Larger family homes|
|Style of new buildings||Heritage/ have to fit in||Contemporary|
|Commercial property||More offices||No more|
|Industrial sites||New ones||Reuse old sites first|
|Nuclear reactor or waste dump||Yes||No thank you|
|Super Casino||Yes, Vegas baby||No|
|Pubs and bars||More||Enough already|
|Cafes/restaurants||More, fill me up||No more|
|Betting shops||More please||We have enough|
|Takeaways||More kebab||Less kebab|
|Green spaces||Protect||We need building land|
|Fibre broadband to homes||Yes please||Not necessary|
|Sports stadium||Yes. Go team||No|
|Large entertainment venue||Yes||No, we have enough fun|
|Shopping||Reuse existing shops||New complexes|
|Building in town or out?||In town||Out of town|
|Wind Turbines||Yes||No, eyesore|
|Solar on houses and gardens||Yes||No|
|Biodiversity, wildlife friendliness||Important||Not important|
|Historic local sites||Important, protect||Other things more important|
|Flooding||Important to prevent||Not an issue here|
|Change of use to residential||Yes convert guesthouses, offices||No|
|Agricultural buildings||Keep them in farming||Convert them|
|Parking||We need more parking||No, it encourages cars|
|Homes for retired people||Yes please||Young more important|
|Second homes||Are welcome||No more|
|Community sport||Yes, more pitches||No, more x-boxes|
|Community facilities, village hall, social club||Protect or enhance||Remove|
Disclaimer – these are my personal views and do not represent the views of my clients nor any body else. I moderate for relevance, bad language etc.
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