Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

Parish and Community-Led Planning, Local Empowerment and Local Evidence Bases: An Examination of 'Good Practice' in West Berkshire

Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

Parish and Community-Led Planning, Local Empowerment and Local Evidence Bases: An Examination of 'Good Practice' in West Berkshire

Article excerpt

This paper provides a critical account of the process and design of parish plans (PPs), drawing on empirical evidence collected from parishes and other stakeholders in West Berkshire, England. PPs form part of a non-statutory process of community-led planning aimed at involving local communities in assessing their needs and preferences in a holistic and inclusive manner. The paper discusses the context in which PPs have evolved and critically assesses the process of assembling the plans examined. The findings have significant import for the future design and integration of PPs into wider local governance networks and in the light of new institutionalist models of planning. The paper concludes by highlighting the difficulties and potentials of such plans in an era of emerging spatial planning in England. Practical recommendations about method and structures to deliver more robust and reliable community-led planning in rural and urban areas are also made.

There is a burgeoning literature on citizen participation and community involvement in governance and spatial planning in the UK and elsewhere. One of the reasons such attention is paid to the subject is the gap between what is said, claimed or endorsed about community involvement and what is actually understood or achieved. The organisation and integration of efforts to seek and incorporate citizen involvement in planning also appear to be poorly thought through (see, for example, Bishop, 2007). Such efforts to engage communities and individuals in decision-making in local governance reflect a 'new institutionalist' or 'new localist' approach to the co-management of local agendas and resources, whereby a range of partners and different types of actors are involved in local governance (Pratchett, 2004). However, as the enthusiasm for partnership working and the governmental endorsement of the principle of community engagement continues, attention to how and for what purpose such efforts are made is somewhat lacking. Also, as Pearce (2007) has highlighted, the resource implications of different forms and approaches to community involvement are not well understood.

The research and reflection reported here point towards a need for community planning efforts to concentrate on the depth and quality of engagement with a view to the type of 'deep citizenship' outlined by authors such as Clarke (1996). While it is not the aim of this article to consider different types of involvement, there are important contextual literatures to be found in the topics and subsequent critiques of, for example, participation, engagement and consultation, and awareness of the types and aims of participation, both in terms of the individual citizen and the wider community (Klausen and Sweeting, 2005). In addition, while there is a need to acknowledge the wider context that prompts, shapes and otherwise influences efforts to involve the public in policy-making, there is limited space here to explore this consideration of community-led planning.

Various commentators have pointed to a lack of resources for public involvement, a lack of genuine political will, concern over the impact on representative democratic positions, and widespread public apathy (or 'civic sclerosis') towards planning and local policy matters (Alinsky, 1971; Selman, 2000; Lowndes and Wilson, 2003). These are all seen as playing a part in a general failure to involve and engage communities in planning processes in a meaningful way, and in the the wider allocation of resources and service provision implied in spatial planning (Thomas, 1996; Flyvberg, 1998; Hillier, 1998; Hibbard and Lurie, 2000; Davies, 2001; CA, 2003a; 2003b; Doak and Parker, 2005; RTPI, 2005). There are also concerns about the overloading of communities, resulting in so-called 'consultation fatigue', and different opinions are expressed about when and how best to involve citizens in policy and practice (e.g., Bishop, 2007; Pearce, 2007).

The wider contextual issues and critiques identified above are all regarded as relevant in some way to the discussion about how PPs for (mostly) smaller and more rural areas have been prepared as non-statutory and community-led processes. …

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