Neighbourhood Planning in London: investigating the potential in areas experiencing high levels of deprivation

Key findings

Social

projects and benefits can come out of the process

Jargon

can make forums alienating

Diverse

forums can struggle to attract diversity proportional to their area

In 2018 Publica was commissioned by Neighbourhood Planners London, a volunteer organisation supporting neighbourhood forums across London, to undertake research into neighbourhood planning in areas with high levels of socio-economic deprivation.

Since the introduction of neighbourhood planning with the 2011 Localism Act, many of London's communities have seized the opportunity to begin developing neighbourhood plans for their local area. These groups have sought to steer incoming development and regeneration in ways that are informed by the needs of local people. 

In the areas profiled in this study, where a large proportion of residents experience socio-economic deprivation, neighbourhood forums saw enormous potential to deliver positive change for their communities, and substantial value in the process of neighbourhood planning. This was true in spite of additional challenges relating to funding and other resources.

Findings

  • The engagement of professional support is a considerable cost for neighbourhood forums, although some forums had individuals willing to work on the project for free. Where the planning skills are available within the forum the inability to pay local members for their services can create feelings of resentment
  • The majority of forums found that Locality grants were insufficient for the costs involved in producing a neighbourhood plan, particularly since additional funding is no longer available for areas with high levels of deprivation
  • The skills and capacity that many neighbourhood forums rely on are not present in all areas, and are often lacking in areas of high deprivation
  • Neighbourhood foruums felt alienated from the process when technical consultants didn't include them in those elements of the plan, and when jargony language was used
  • Forums struggle to attract ethnic and social diversity proportional to their areas, although some forums are experimenting with new approaches to ensure diversity
  • Tackling social issues is often the driving force behind neighbourhood planning, often taking precedence over planning issues
  • Social projects and local benefits can come out of the process, regardless of whether a plan has been 'made', and the engagement process gives neighbourhood forums a mandate to work on these issues
  • Neighbourhood forums are often seen as a useful organisation to represent the area, take on social projects and boost social cohesion (including once the neighbourhood plan is 'made')
  • Forums had a range of experiences with local authorities, but the most positive were where the planning team were helpful and hands-on, with a single point of contact who could stay in touch

Recommendations

Improving the process of neighbourhood planning

  1. Consider making provision for neighbourhood plans that are led by their social policies and projects, rather than planning projects alone
  2. Introduct milestone 'wins' over the course of the project to counter loss of momentum and to provide the potential to unlock additional resources
  3. Simplify routes into the neighbourhood planning process for forums, for example making the process of applying for initial funding more straightforward, to remove barriers to entry

Mainstreaming neighbourhood planning

  1. Widen access for neighbourhood forums and their technical consultants to digital and mapping tools used by local authorities
  2. Consider emerging neighbourhood plans and their priorities in local plans and make explicit that the integration of neighbourhood plans is part of the soundness test of local plans
  3. Collaborate with neighbourhood forums to make stronger connections between neighbourhood planning and Community Infrastructure Levy priorities

Funding

  1. Revisit the criteria for additional funding for neighbourhood forums, and consider tailored packages of support for urban areas with high levels of deprivation
  2. Provide ringfenced funding for neighbourhood forums to spend on administrative support and communications
  3. Provide information for neighbourhood forums on alternative funding sources and develp networks for corporate sponsorship and other support

Capacity-building and support

  1. Provide clarity over the 'duty to support' neighbourhood planning for local authorities, setting out expected roles and responsibilities in a guidance document that has statutory weight
  2. Provide additional capacity-building for neighbourhood forums in urban areas with high levels of deprivation
  3. Consider funding a point person over the life of the neighbourhood planning process for forums across groups of around three boroughs
  4. Fund and prioritise peer-to-peer learning between neighbourhood forums across London
  5. Facilitate mutual support and peer-to-peer learning between local authorities
  6. Explore ways to link local skills with neighbourhood forums in a way that can deliver professional accreditation or other benefits for volunteers
  7. Support peer-to-peer learning, facilitated by Neighbourhood Planners London's existing networks, to develop a team or pipeline of skilled consultants experienced in supporting neighbourhood forums in London
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Neighbourhood Planning in London: investigating the potential in areas experiencing high levels of deprivation

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