Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

Neighbourhood Planning in London: Fulfilling the Coalition's Stated Objectives? an Exploration of the Representativeness and Inclusiveness of Neighbourhood Forums

Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

Neighbourhood Planning in London: Fulfilling the Coalition's Stated Objectives? an Exploration of the Representativeness and Inclusiveness of Neighbourhood Forums

Article excerpt

Under the Coalition's localism agenda, neighbourhood planning has been introduced as a new mechanism to facilitate more public participation and decision-making power for all communities, in order to achieve David Cameron's 'Big Society'. Neighbourhood forums (NFs) are the cornerstone of this initiative, enabling community members to form 'neighbourhood' groups endowed with statutory planning rights. While this rhetoric seems promising, questions surrounding the meaningfulness of NFs as a form of public participation have surfaced. Considering the policy framework, governance structures and power relations, this research addresses the underlying concern that NFs may not be inclusive and representative. This research employs a multi-scalar analysis to evaluate the overall representativeness and inclusiveness of NFs in London. A descriptive profile of NF areas at the London-wide level is developed through the examination and analysis of demographic indicators, locational characteristics and key planning information. Employing the Simpson diversity index (SDI), the diversity levels of NFs are simultaneously evaluated. Using the information collected from qualitative interviews with key informants, an exploration of the lived reality of the process that NFs undergo in defining themselves is then presented. Insight into how NFs operationalise the process of self-definition is used to evaluate the representativeness and inclusiveness of NFs internally. Four case studies are subsequently presented and discussed as a means of marrying both the former and latter analyses. Considering all the data, types of representation, participatory versus representative democracy and inclusivity versus exclusivity are used as criteria in evaluating the overall representativeness and inclusiveness of NFs.

Introduction

Neighbourhood planning is a recent phenomenon, touted as a tool to fulfil the Coalition's localism agenda. Broadly speaking, localism is a political rhetoric that boasts the transfer of decision-making power from central government to community actors in numerous areas of public policy. In planning, this has been expressed through new policy, enabling the creation of NFs, which are endowed with limited statutory planning rights, including the right to create neighbourhood plans. The expectation of neighbourhood planning is that it will grant local communities the means to influence the local development planning process in order to affect development outcomes.

While this new doctrine of localism and planning seems promising, there are numerous identifiable issues that cast doubt on the intentions and effectiveness of neighbourhood planning. In particular, issues surrounding the inherent contradictions embedded within the policy framework and a lacking implementation strategy question the Coalition's stated objectives.

When examining the implementation of NFs to date, it is not unreasonable to suggest their potential as modern-day enclosures, much like the privatisation and securitisation of space ushered in by neo-liberalism (Mayer, 2013). NFs enable specific groups to self-define by delineating their own boundary as a means of physical enclosure. Those included within the boundary are granted certain privileges that those excluded from the boundary do not receive, thereby fostering a symbolic enclosure. For instance, NFs in theory have greater influence over planning decisions that can favour their communities, such as Section 106 agreements. Those excluded from the boundary may not be able to form an NF and therefore are excluded from these potential benefits.

Certain individuals and groups can much more easily create 'enclosures' given their pre-existing advantages. This is especially true for today's cities, which have entered into an era of 'austerity urbanism' (Peck, 2012). The 'rolling back' of government involvement (through initiatives like localism) has resulted in substantial cuts in public spending on city services, which has produced highly unequal outcomes, with traditionally disadvantaged groups - and new groups - propelled into economic hardship, while advantaged groups continue to benefit (Mayer 2013). …

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