Neighbourhood Planning: Evaluation, now or never?
Whilst political newspeak ‘Big Society’ has quietly shrunken into political oblivion, some of its cuttings are still releasing new shoots. Neighbourhood planning is one of these.
Communities up and (mainly) down the country continue to develop their very own neighbourhood plans. There’s over fourteen hundred plans being developed. The 32% average turnout is only ten points behind local elections.
Neighbourhood Planning is rekindling public interest in planning.
As of this May, 2015 has seen 28 neighbourhood plans sworn in. I’d hazard a guess almost one hundred thousand votes have been cast. Turnout and supporters seem somewhat all over the place.
Assume Nothing & Learn From Past Mistakes
If there’s one thing my twenties taught me, it’s to avoid assumptions and remember where I’ve been. And this is how neighbourhood planning needs to improve.
With fourteen hundred communities pottering with planning and an eye-watering bill in the region of £50-75m on public books, why is there no national evaluation being carried out?
Glossy hashtag-embossed #neighbourhood planning ‘notes’ from Government seem a weak replacement for a belt-and-braces look under the bonnet. The notes jar the eyes – wild with fonts, graphics and painfully-poor maps. Even then, I’d appreciate an update. Following a flurry of four, there’s been radio silence since February.
Questions hang in the air like lazy insects in the summer sun: why have communities only received 10% of funding spent so far? How have approaches differed between areas with fewer than a thousand compared to those with tens of thousands? Where’s the data behind the maps?
But none of these negate the need for a national evaluation. When will the government and Locality submit to scrutiny?
A taste of what’s to come
Back in 2013, there was a small data release that allowed me to do a little data-crunching of my own. I cross-matched neighbourhood planning areas with levels of deprivation. As many would expect, a community-led and volunteer-heavy process is more prevalent in less-deprived areas.
I’m on the verge of entering the world of neighbourhood planning once again, and I’m excited at the opportunity to work with communities; to better understand how community-led planning is changing the landscape of our country; and how clever planning can create sustainable, happy communities. I know there is valuable learning and diversity, even when working with a small proportion of the population.
However, I hope there is a national learning exercise. There is a need to start answering the questions of diversity, representation, abilities and experiences.
Please get in touch if you’d like copies of my data, or wonder how I’ve totted up £50m of subsidies.