Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

Sticking to the Script? the Co-Production of Neighbourhood Planning in England

Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

Sticking to the Script? the Co-Production of Neighbourhood Planning in England

Article excerpt

Introduction

This paper sets out findings drawn from a study of 120 neighbourhoods1 from across England who, at the time of the research discussed here, had completed or were preparing a Neighbourhood Development Plan (NDP) under the auspices of the Localism Act (2011) and associated regulations covering neighbourhood planning (NP) in England.2 The focus is placed on the experience that the groups have accumulated in developing an NDP. This is particularly important given that there is a great deal of interest in this policy initiative and some early work examining the dynamics of neighbourhood planning case studies has been emerging (see, for example: Defra, 2013; Davoudi and Madanipour, 2013; and Sturzaker, 2015 this journal), but little empirical work with users has been published. This paper therefore contributes needed empirical evidence and also adds to the ongoing debate over how localism is being translated into practice in a post-collaborative neo-liberal era.

It is axiomatic that the views and experiences of participants, alongside claims made on behalf of neighbourhood planning, should be factored in for careful assessment, reflection and further analysis. For reasons of space and focus, this paper necessarily concentrates on the reported views of volunteers in neighbourhood planning; we also acknowledge that there is an ongoing need for theoretically informed critique (see also Davoudi and Madanipour, 2013; Parker and Street, 2015) and further research as indicated towards the end of this paper.

Neighbourhood planning suggests itself as a collaborative planning form (eg Healey 2003) and, given thoroughgoing criticisms of the collaborative planning paradigm elucidated by, for example, Allmendinger and Tewdwr-Jones (1998); Huxley (2000); Hillier (2003); Mouffe (2005); Sager (2009); Swyngedouw (2005; 2010) and Allmendinger and Haughton (2012), neighbourhood planning has been introduced to a somewhat cautious welcome by planning theorists. It has been variously pointed out that a lack of substantive principles undermine the legitimacy of such forms of planning (Allmendinger and Tewdwr-Jones, 1998) and that this lack may actually serve to jeopardise effective contestation of planning alternatives. There is a concern that dialogic spaces such as NP (Mouffe, 2005) may bundle-up plurality and alterity into some position justified on broad 'public interest' grounds (Campbell and Marshall, 2002). This positionality may or may not include future generations and other absent, or marginalised group interests who may not be able to engage directly (Eversole, 2010). Huxley (2000), in this vein, has contended that the collaborative planning paradigm carries two other important weaknesses, i.e. it may be susceptible to co-option by powerful interests, and proponents have downplayed asymmetries of power and knowledge between participants in dialogic spaces and collaborative forms of planning.

Yet such critique cannot be allowed to close-down this important debate if concerned parties are to challenge and reformulate spatial planning in England as a genuinely co-produced and pluralist activity. One of the challenges then becomes how to design and implement engagement that is somehow proofed against the problems of instrumentalism, co-option and colonisation by more dominant actors and interests. It is also accepted, however, that participation cannot be open-ended and that consensus in a diverse social environment is unlikely (Hillier, 2003; Sager, 2009). Thus we are interested in developing awareness of the technologies of governance employed and that commonly circulate and shape engagement processes and outcomes (Parker and Street, 2015; Swyngedouw, 2005) and how neighbourhood planning groups are navigating through a challenging operating milieu and with a circumscribed mechanism such as neighbourhood planning. This leads us to a consideration of the value of the process and the outcomes of neighbourhood planning, as well as a focus here on how community views are 'rescripted' as a result of the co-production processes anticipated by Gallent (2013) and which highlights issues found in many neighbourhoods of capacity, skills and poor connection to existing planning networks. …

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