Bob Fletcher is involved in developing a Neighbourhood Plan in Inner East Preston, Lancashire and has received support through the Supporting Neighbourhood Planning programme.
In this guest blog, he shares how his area has developed a Neighbourhood Plan, as well as his reflections on the process.
How I got involved with our Neighbourhood Plan
As a volunteer and local resident, I got involved with Neighbourhood Planning because it gave me influence and a voice in planning decisions which affected the place where I have always lived. Also, I retired from work three years ago so this gave me some free time to spend doing it, which was essential.
Prior to the Localism Act, many of the planning and investment decisions affecting where I live tended to be made by people who did not live in my area. But it was me, not the decision makers, who had to live with the consequences of their decisions, a poor example of which is the lack of financial investment in our area.
I loved the idea of “bottom up” rather than “top down” decision making and wanted to grasp the opportunity being offered the chance to influence developments in my area. Never before in my lifetime had ordinary local people like me been given a say in anything that affected the development of their area. For me: it was groundbreaking.
Yet here in Inner East Preston, the local residents have developed a sense of apathy towards new initiatives, such as Localism and Neighbourhood Planning. There’s a deep-set attitude that there’s no point in getting involved as no-one has ever listened.
It was very hard in the beginning of Neighbourhood Planning (and to be honest it is still very hard now) to convince people in my neighbourhood that they do have a voice and that they can influence future decision making which affects where they live.
About Inner East Preston Neighbourhood Plan
The group which I am a member of, the Friends of Fishwick and St Matthews (FoFS) came into being about four years ago. The founder members were all volunteer residents on the Board of Preston City Council Neighbourhood Management (NM) team in our area. When the NM office in our area was closed due to Central Government cut backs we did not want to lose this facility which provided a channel of communication between local residents, our City Council and beyond, especially at a time when the “Big Society” idea was just emerging.
When the Neighbourhood Planning initiative was introduced three years ago, the City Council already had an on-going draft Inner East Preston Plan. So we used this plan as a template, alongside an extensive local consultation, to begin to produce our own Neighbourhood Plan. The aim of our plan is to protect our assets and the things we value into the future.
About a year later, the Big Local programme identified Inner East Preston as an area in need of investment, awarding us £1m over the next 10 years. The funding was to produce a Big Local Plan based on a separate consultation which we found was easier for people to understand and get involved in.
In producing both plans we have always tried to work in partnership with our Local Authority because without their experience, help and expertise, particularly the Community Engagement team and Planning Department, we would not have progressed so quickly. I think it is important for any group undertaking either type of planning to try to work closely with and involve their Local Authority at all stages.
Our community have been working on both plans for over two years now and we are hoping in 2015 that we will begin to reap the benefits of all our hard work.
About the Neighbourhood Planning process
As a group of inexperienced individuals in a disadvantaged, run down urban area we have all learnt a lot. Even though it’s not been a smooth easy ride it has certainly put the area on the map, both locally and nationally.
We as residents have also developed better relationships with both our local authorities: Lancashire County Council and Preston City Council. I think the Neighbourhood Planning process has created a sense of working together and a more joined up thinking approach to future potential developments.
A good example of this is a recent proposed land swap deal between Preston City Council and Community Gateway Housing Association which if it goes through, will allowed us to provide a much needed bit of green space for community use in a densely populated and car congested area, a move that may well have been considered “too risky” pre Neighbourhood and Big Local Planning.
We all know that people want to see things happening on the ground and I believe that only through visible physical improvements will local people feel the real impact of their involvement. All of the above initiatives working together have allowed us to protect our existing assets and to enhance and extend them with the finances provided.
This week (8-12 December) is Neighbourhood Planning Week – find out about other projects developing their Neighbourhood Plans on this page.How we have made a real change in our community using Neighbourhood Planning,