News and Comment

Neighbourhood planning – making the most of the ‘other resources’ of a place

Thursday 17 February 2011

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‘Regime change’ is a bold title for a workshop. Chairing Regime change – securing environmental progress in a new world of planning, at the recent Green Alliance conference, Power Shift – Big Society, localism and the environment, prompted me to reflect on the planning proposals contained within the localism bill, particularly the emphasis on neighbourhood plans and a bottom-up approach.

The workshop highlighted the perennial challenge of many elements of public service delivery, and the many challenges for Britain, such as finding the right balance between the national and the local.

Having worked on many aspects of planning policy at the strategic end, including the Planning Act 2008, I am aware of the big picture challenges we face, including how we reduce carbon emissions, making the most of renewable technologies and renewing our infrastructure. It’s clear that many of the answers to carbon mitigation, climate change mitigation and local resilience lie in localities, in the hands of local people.

But in this time of public funding cuts, there is a risk that neighbourhood planning is treated as a tick box process, ‘Here’s a plan and a set of development orders, thanks.’ The workshop was clear that such an approach would leave many places with risk averse plans and offered a serious threat to our national objectives of carbon reduction and adaptation.

A whole-system view

There is, though, an alternative approach that will benefit local people, places and local authorities – an approach which begins by taking a bigger, whole-system view of our places.

Taking such a view would offer other ways of addressing the impacts of cuts to public funding, and help reveal the greater richness of every place. David Halpern has written of The Hidden Wealth of Nations (Halpern, 2009), and the value within our relationships. These are part of what I describe as the ‘other resources’ of a place.

In the days of the Neighbourhood Renewal Fund (NRF) some were overly concerned with who got what NRF money, rather than seeing it as a part of the much larger pot of public funding where judicious use of the NRF would change mainstream funding to much greater effect.

‘Other resources’ = total resources

More recently we have had the concept of Total Place. In reality, though, ‘Total Place’ might more realistically be called ‘Total public money (and what it buys) in a Place’. Other resources is about seeing beyond the public funding, to see the total resources of a place.

Other resources are the individual behaviours of residents, and the collective impacts of those decisions. They include collective action, a powerful reinforcement of social norms and a force for local change that is often overlooked in policy making (tending, as it does, to look at national government action and carrots or sticks for individuals). Other resources include the use of land, the impact of sun and rain, the water coursing through a place, the parks and gardens, biodiversity and bio-wealth.

At OPM we have long championed the importance of effective community involvement, the powerful role of the councillor in engaging communities, and more recently in addressing climate change.

In taking the opportunity to have a bigger-system view of the role of neighbourhood planning, local people, local politicians and the local authority could focus attention on green jobs and the growing green economy, on low carbon transport links, and decentralised energy, as part of making the optimum use of the other resources of a place.

Neighbourhood planning can act as the vehicle for a real local consideration of the future, of a climate changed world, where every place in the UK will need to emit less, and where each community will face their own, particular challenges of adapting to different weather patterns, changes in the availability of different resources from energy to water, with local consequences affecting everyone.

While we will explore some of these issues in a forthcoming learning programme, we are also looking for two authorities that would be interesting in piloting neighbourhood planning with carbon in mind, so do drop me a line at hlloyd@www.opm.co.uk if you are interested.