Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

Locality and Community: Towards a Vehicle for Community-Based Decision Making in Rural Localities in England

Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

Locality and Community: Towards a Vehicle for Community-Based Decision Making in Rural Localities in England

Article excerpt

Recent widespread discussion including policy statements by government suggest that more authority should be devolved to local communities to make decisions about the rural localities in which they live. The paper evaluates existing instruments, including village appraisals and village design statements, against the criteria of subsidiarity, integration and effectiveness, to determine whether they can be developed further to assist local communities, in collaboration with key institutions, to contribute more actively to preparing proposals for their localities. Finally, the paper sets out indicatively the attributes that would need to characterise a new community-based instrument for local decision making in rural areas.

[W]e want to see . . . people living in rural areas being fully involved in developing their community, safeguarding its valued features, and shaping the decisions that affect them. (DETR and MAFF, 2000, 145)

In line with discussions at national and international levels about,first, the increasing significance of local decision making and, second, sustainable development as an imperative of policy making and action, a common view has emerged around the specific need for a more local approach to the way decisions are taken about the future of rural communities and localities1 (DOE and MAFF, 1995; Moseley, 1996; Warburton, 1998; DETR, 1999; DETR and MAFF, 2000; Rural Development Commission and Countryside Commission, 1998; Countryside Agency, 1999a; 2000a).

Within this common view it is possible to discern three characteristics of a changed approach that provide a basis for evaluating current decision making about rural localities and for developing a community-based approach. These are to:

* foster a greater degree of subsidiarity in decision making in localities by encouraging greater involvement of, and delegating more responsibility, power and resources to, identifiable local communities;

* cover an appropriate range of social, economic and environmental matters of significance to the local community and deal with them in an integrated manner through appraisal, policy and action;

* enable local communities to be more effective in undertaking appraisal, preparing policies, and prescribing action where it is competent to do so, and engaging the commitment of institutions upon whose policies, decisions and resources the welfare of local communities partly depends.

These three characteristics are elaborated below.

The overall purpose of developing a local approach to decision making would be to maintain or improve the quality of life for rural communities and the quality of environment of rural localities. Among the key issues that would need to be addressed in fulfilling this purpose would be: creating employment; providing good quality education and developing skills; combating social exclusion; providing social facilities and services; securing attractive and affordable new development; responding to natural features of the local environment; respecting or creating attractive features of the built environment; promoting community development, and ensuring reasonable access to facilities and services not available locally.

A community-based approach to decision making would involve delegation of appropriate decisions to the locality and broadening of access to decision making across the whole community. This implies that decisions on matters of specific concern within a particular locality that do not have ramifications beyond the locality should be taken at that level. Local people are best placed to identify the local features of their lives and environment that they wish to change or to protect. The appropriate delegation of decision making should involve greater involvement of the whole community, rather than domination by a few articulate people. It is important to emphasise, however, that only those decisions that are appropriately taken at the local level should be taken by the community. …

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