Community planning is all about how public bodies and other partners work with local communities to design and deliver services that suitably reflect the needs and priorities or a local area. Effective community planning incorporates strong partnership working and a shared vision which has been created especially to fit a set of local circumstances.
Providing effective and efficient services, promoting community engagement and enterprise and engaging the third sector are all things that could now be considered part of “community planning”. It is founded on the idea that communities know best; they know what they need, they know how it can be delivered and how they will use services in the most effective way to get the most value from them. With an increase in political devolution we have seen different approaches to delivering community planning emerge in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Some nations embraced it from a very early stage, others less so. However, it has become an increasingly popular model over recent years, with all four administrations now using some form of community planning model.
In England, the focus has largely been on housing and land use and the relationship between community plans (which consider services and public engagement) and local development plans (which focus more on the physical aspects of planning in the community, such as land use). Neighbourhood plans give communities the opportunity to develop a shared vision for and shape the development and growth of their local area. Neighbourhood plans are not a legal requirement, but a right which communities can evoke if they wish to. They are designed to fit alongside local authority produced “local plans” and provide an opportunity for communities to set out a long term vision for their area in terms of development, and “may encourage them to consider ways to improve their neighbourhood other than through the development and use of land.”
The introduction of the 2015 Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act is a clear indication of the stance of the Scottish Government with regards to community planning. As well as statutory rights being strengthened with regards to consultation and community consultation, the legislation also places statutory requirements on public bodies with regards to supporting local community based service delivery, and actively engaging local people in decision making processes. As a result of the legislation 32 Community Planning Partnerships (CPPs) now exist in Scotland and they are responsible for developing and delivering community plans. These can take two forms:
- a larger plan, which takes account of the whole CPP area (Local Outcomes Improvement Plan)
- a smaller plan, which focuses on a smaller geographic area which has been identified as being in need of improvement (locality plan)
There is no limit to the number of plans CPP’s can create in a year, but the views of local communities are particularly important in creating these as that is the way to best reflect local needs and priorities.
In Scotland a consultation is also currently underway to consider ways to align community and spatial planning more closely, as it was recognised that planning for services should also be mapped along with physical development.
In a Welsh context the use of community planning focuses on resource allocation and the direction of resource to where it is needed. Promoting community cohesion and well-being through community planning is also something which can be seen in both Wales and Scotland. Increasingly, plans have attempted to incorporate a “place-centred”, “service focused”, “partnership led” approach, with the emphasis on individual need. It is hoped that by bringing service providers and other partners back in touch with the people who use their services that their views can be taken on in future planning projects. As in all community planning projects, partnerships are key; however in Wales one of the biggest challenges has been forming these partnerships and getting buy-in from local businesses. A similar challenge has also been seen with national level bodies.
This challenge of engaging national bodies in community planning has also been seen in Scotland. National bodies are expected to engage with rural and urban CPP’s in ways which reflect individual community need, something they had not been used to doing previously. As a result, promoting flexibility and adaptability and encouraging participation from a range of stakeholders in order to support the creation and delivery of community plans has been high on the agenda across the UK.
The situation in Northern Ireland is, to a large extent, still evolving. Executives at Stormont, as well as planners and developers, see engaging local people as important but they are also trying to find a model which works best for a Northern Irish context. Potential options for integrating community based models have included adopting models from England or Scotland respectively; creating their own model which takes elements from a number of different models; or making attempts to align the Northern Irish model closer to that of the Republic of Ireland.
Currently the legislative basis for community planning in Northern Ireland is set out in the Local Government Act (Northern Ireland) 2014. The Act makes a statutory link between community plans and local land use development plans, and makes the link between community planning for a district and well-being more explicit.
Engaging difficult to reach communities in community planning
The views of local communities are particularly important when creating community plans, as their fundamental principle is to reflect service and resource need more effectively in order to benefit communities. As a result community planners across the UK face the unilateral challenge of getting people to engage. Different groups within a community may have different capacity and ability to engage. ‘Hard to reach’ groups are particularly important to the consultation process as it is often they who make the most use of services or have the greatest need for specific service provision. People in this group may include young people, older people, ethnic minorities or other socially excluded groups, and small businesses. They are also sometimes referred to as ‘seldom heard’ groups.
Methods to improve communication and consultation with hard to reach groups vary, but some potential barriers and solutions to engagement include:
- Jargon and technical language – Policy and planning documents can be very long, and very dense, with lots of planning specific technical jargon, create an easy access version so that everyone can be engaged in discussions and not feel intimidated by “high level” documents.
- Digital illiteracy – Increasingly consultation documents, some forums and copies of the plans themselves are held online, and improving access to these would help to encourage more people to participate.
- Awareness and accessibility – Promoting consultations or community planning events, and holding them at a variety of times and in a variety of settings to allow people from different groups to attend. In addition providing them in multiple languages, using language that is more accessible for young people, or in a larger type size may also help to encourage people to participate.
- Showing impact – Create follow up documents so that people can see how their input has made a difference. Even if the plan won’t be implemented for a number of months, let people know how what they said influenced or changed the decisions that were made.
It is clear that England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are at different stages in their community planning journey. However, they have all, in one way or another recognised the importance of engaging communities to identify needs and attempt to allocate resources accordingly. In many instances, these community agendas have not just been linked to spatial, or even service planning, but also to wider issues around inequality and well-being and how resources and planning across all areas can best be directed to tackle this. It may be that we see this reflected further in future legislation.
This blog reflects on a recent paper by Deborah Peel and Simon Pemberton “Exploring New Models of Community based Planning in the Devolved UK” a study funded by the Planning Exchange Foundation.
Idox Information Service members can access our research briefing on engaging communities in planning.
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