Placemaking, Communities and the Planning Process

James Davies, Chief Executive at Planning Aid Wales.

As an organisation dedicated to community involvement in the planning process, Planning Aid Wales wholeheartedly welcomed People and Community as one of the six pillars of the Placemaking Charter. For us, working with rather than for communities is key.

Whilst straightforward, delivering meaningful community involvement is not always easy.  In planning, community consultation and engagement is delivered as a statutory requirement, but the views of local communities (even when relevant) can be eclipsed by the competing priorities of different actors responsible for managing and delivering development. Community involvement takes time, and time and resources are increasingly limited.

Some of the key challenges we encounter include:

Awareness. Planners often hear from people who have a lot to say, but the vast majority (including the hard to reach) say nothing at all. Many are unaware or underestimate the importance of the Local Development Plan (LDP), which when adopted, informs all subsequent planning application decisions.

Apathy. Even where people are aware, there is disillusionment and in some cases distrust in the planning process. This has been created in some instances by a negative feedback loop, where past experiences sour future involvement.

Over-emphasis on process, particularly when it comes to involvement activity itself. Methods used are few, feedback to participants is often limited, and measures of success (if evaluated) often focus on reach rather than quality or outcome.

One element of the planning process that can overcome these challenges is the production of Place Plans. Place Plans are documents produced by communities that can be adopted as Supplementary Planning Guidance (that is, supplementary to the LDP) and can influence planning application decisions thereafter.

Planning Aid Wales has worked with communities where the production of a Place Plan has brought a range of benefits, not least the creation of a planning document that can be implemented and championed by the community.

Place Plan production can facilitate greater community awareness of planning and foster collaboration with a wide range of stakeholders.  It can also help communities come together to deliver positive change to their places; the evidence gathered to produce the Newtown & Llanllwchaiarn Place Plan has already been used to secure over £1million in project funding for the area.

The Newtown & Llanllwchaiarn Place Plan has also identified (and evidenced) community priorities for future Local Development Plan production. For us, this is a first step to creating a positive feedback loop which could deliver great placemaking in planning.