“ Encouraging greater public participation in planning following the
Localism Act 2011 – an ethnographic examination of the values, culture and
motivations of community involvement in neighbourhood planning in
Richard Nickson Doctoral Training Associate
Salford Housing and Urban Studies Unit (SHUSU)
College of Science and Technology
University of Salford
UK-Ireland Planning Conference
• What is neighbourhood planning and what does it do?
• Research Aim
• Research Objectives
• The DCLG hypothesis for neighbourhood planning
• The current position
• Development of the research methodology
• Emerging findings from the perspective of a participantobserver, interviews and discussion forum
What is a neighbourhood plan?
A “new way” (according to Government) for local communities to influence
what goes on in their locality.
An element of the modified planning system which the Government see as
essential for economic growth, by increasing the rate of house building
Brought about by the Localism Act 2011.
Regulated by the National Planning Policy Framework, replaced over 1000
pages of planning guidance and regulation, with 50 pages.
Delivered by groups of volunteers drawn from the locality preparing the plan.
What does a neighbourhood plan do?
Forms part of the spatial plan for development of an area, alongside the Local
The Local Plan is prepared by the Local Planning Authority and the
Neighbourhood Plan could be prepared by either:
• A neighbourhood forum (of 24 local community volunteers), or,
• A community steering group forming a sub-committee of a second or third
tier local government organisation specifically Parish or Town Council
• There is no definition of the constitution of a community steering group.
• You cannot form a neighbourhood forum in an area with a PTC.
The Neighbourhood Plan can allocate development sites, and, form
development control policies. It carries weight and must be considered in
granting planning permission for development.
Areas of opportunity to make a contribution to
Planning and sustainable urban (re)development (SUD) operate in the
prevailing political, social and economic context of the country of reference.
Neighbourhood planning is a new concept in the creation of the spatial plan
for a locality - there is not a significant body of research on this particular
Concept of community participation in planning is not new – but the new
system may represent a new paradigm for planning.
This study provides an opportunity to examine such activities from the
perspective of a participant using ethnographic techniques.
The researcher is a participant observer.
Research Aim
“To understand how communities develop neighbourhood plans,
and in doing so examine the impact of the Localism Act 2011 in
terms of its likelihood to increase community engagement and
participation in planning and urban regeneration”
Research objectives
Explore the policy context for the study.
Identify appropriate study areas and understand organisational approaches
towards neighbourhood planning in the study areas.
Assess the capacity of community groups in the study areas.
Identify individual motivations for participation within the study population and
to compare these to national data.
Measure the degree to which a study population feel that they can influence
decisions in their local area.
The DCLG hypothesis
Encouraging signs?
The current position in England
• 1183 applications for NP status
• 856 designated
• 69 submitted for approval
• 38 Examined
• 23 Adopted
• Numerous legal challenges and
local controversy – examples in
Cheshire West and Tower
• Reducing rate of take up /
Data as at 28/8/14 – Planning Magazine online Development
Plan Tracker.
Reality on the ground north west England
Growth in Neighbourhood Planning showing signs of
slowing down?
Development of the research methodology 1
Initially an action research project in Salford using elements of the Localism
Act to move forward community involvement in planning. A scoping exercise
revealed little support for such a process in Salford.
An opportunity for the researcher to participate in a neighbourhood plan in his
home town emerged, during the Autumn of 2012.
The number of neighbourhood plan areas growing from 17 in late 2011, 210
underway in mid 2012 to over 700 by mid 2013, now 850+ in 2014.
This expanding population raised concerns about the scale and usefulness of
elements of the original plan for a questionnaire based survey – particularly
given the researcher’s interest in understand the values and beliefs of
Development of the research methodology 2
A mixed methods, qualitative approach was called for to address the
developing research objectives.
Participant – observation was established in the Neston neighbourhood plan
A small scale pilot questionnaire was circulated amongst a sample of
neighbourhood plan areas, revealing potentially useful study participants
within a small group of case study locations.
Other work, including web-based discussion groups, Governmental research
seminars and dialogue with active participants led the researcher to adopt an
ethnographic approach.
Alongside participant-observation a series of semi-structured interviews, a
field diary and web based discussions now forms the bulk of research data.
Thematic analysis will be applied to develop a ‘thick’ descriptive narrative
The participant observer (me)
• I am a member of the Neston Neighbourhood plan community
steering group; involves: attending meetings, public events,
knowledge exchanges and reading / researching local issues
and discussion papers.
• Chair of community consultation sub-group (lapsed)
• Member of Quality of Life and Transport sub-group (ongoing)
• Background in sustainable transport planning, highways
development control, strategic and local plan making,
professionally qualified, extensive experience in local
government and private practice.
• Engaged as a researcher by UoS and working towards
submission of PhD thesis (3rd year)
Place attachment – personal, social, emotional, financial – civic pride
“many people don’t realise the efforts we make”
Organisational / reputational – poor experiences with previous plan-led
approaches, lack of faith local and national governmental
Cultural – the majority of participants are habitual volunteers – “if I don’t
do it – who will?”
Sceptism of politics – local and national – no desire to participate in
political arguments, many pragmatists and those keen to “see
something happen” – “if WE don’t what will the future look like”.
Backgrounds – high level business, public sector, academic – many
having achieved change in former careers, now with “time on their
hands” – but a clear desire to “give something back”
• Length of time is a barrier to commitment – a war of attrition for
volunteers – many move on or away during the process.
e.g. Neston Plan is two years plus and counting. A Cheshire East Councillor recently
stated in a planning committee that, in respect of the refusal of a housing proposal, that “its
okay, because the Parish Council has just decided to develop a NP, and, they hope to have
it in place by spring, and that plan will have other housing proposals in it, so we can make
this decision.”
• Complexity of requirements: - the evidence base, “creeping
professionalism”, and, “hoop jumping” all cited as off putting to many
who rely on local knowledge and personal judgement.
• A lack of tangible outcomes in short term frustrates “activists” who
want to “do something”, even if in an unplanned manner.
Emerging theoretical conclusions
NP – is an emerging form of collaborative governance (CG), but can it develop a
new planning paradigm – bottom up, community led, locally sustainable –
examined by Healey, Davoudi inter alia.
NP - an example of Common Pool Resource management (CPRM), inspired by
the works of Poteete, Ostrom, et al: the organisational models developed here
can provide guidance for effective delivery of NP. See also Susser and
Tonnelat – Transformative Cities, The three urban commons.
We need to better understand Place Identity, Volunteerism and community
organisational capacity linked to application of models arising from CG and
CPRM theory, in developing the wider adoption of NP as a practice. But
without financial backing, organisational support and reduced bureaucracy
then it seems that NP may struggle to have far reaching impact. Currently it is
not having significant impact on planning decisions for the majority of the
population. Planners as ethnographers can explore this emerging “movement
either through action (research) or participation / observation.
Thank you
Contact: [email protected]
Supervisor: Prof. Phil Brown
Useful references:
Carley, M. Jenkins, P and Smith, H (2001) Urban Development and Civil Society, the role of
communities in sustainable cities, London: Earthscan
Davoudi, S (2013) Localism and neo-liberal governmentalism, Town Planning REVIEW,
2013, 84(5) 551-561
Maginn, PJ (2007) Towards more effective community participation in urban regeneration:
the potential of collaborative planning and applied ethnography. Qualitative Research
February 2007 vol7: pg 25-43
Poteete, AR. Janssen, MA and Ostrom, E (2010) Working Together, Collective Action, the
commons and Multiple Methods in Practice. Princeton University Press, Princeton

Encouraging greater public participation in planning following the