Lawrence Weston: a case study about neighbourhood planning and community engagement

Background

DSC_0488Lawrence Weston is a post-war housing estate on the edge of Bristol and is home to about 7,000 people. Originally built as council housing, some of the homes are now in private ownership due to Right to Buy but over half are still social housing.

Lawrence Weston used to act as a dormitory village for dock workers in Avonmouth, but changes in employment patterns over time led to high levels of unemployment on the estate. Unemployment remains an issue, particularly for young people, and the estate’s location means it’s cut off from services and opportunities in the city centre. An indirect bus service takes 40-50 minutes to get to the centre and is expensive for residents to use.

Why a neighbourhood plan?

There’s been no new housing built in Lawrence Weston for 50 years, and, although deprived, the area has never attracted large-scale regeneration funding which might have resulted in development. So residents had very little involvement in the planning system.

However, in 2012 a key site (former school/FE college) in the heart of Lawrence Weston was put up for sale for redevelopment. At the same time the clinic and youth centre buildings were closing, and some housing was being demolished due to “concrete cancer” leaving sites available for future development. Residents started a “Friends of the College Site” group but it quickly became apparent that people wanted a more general “Planning Group” which could articulate what local people wanted and could influence their area’s development and future growth.

Engaging the local community

engagement_exerciseWork on the community plan provided a strong base for engagement. Residents were trained in community research (pdf) (the resulting qualification has helped some find work) and designed a questionnaire used for door-to-door research which had over 1,000 responses.

The priorities identified through this engagement were used for the community plan. The land use and development parts of the community plan were used for the neighbourhood plan’s priorities, thus linking the neighbourhood plan directly with the community’s vision.

Residents were also engaged in developing a design brief for housing, a supermarket and health building on the College site, working with the local planning authority and the Design Council. This went to market (where developer feedback indicated they were more likely to get involved as they had an understanding of what residents and the LPA want) and provider bidders for the supermarket and housing have been identified.

The Lawrence Weston Neighbourhood Planning Forum meets monthly with over 20 people coming to each meeting. Keeping group members engaged and interested is done by:

  • Keeping a focus: there is a key site people care about and want to influence how it will be developed
  • Fresh content and updates: there are visiting speakers each month to provide a different perspective
  • A social element that makes it more than just another meeting: the group celebrates birthdays, Christmas etc
  • Good chairing: the chair is funny, engaging and keeps everyone on track

A series of workshops was held with support from Planning Aid England. These helped residents build knowledge of the planning system through interactive sessions including quizzes and themed activities covering topics such as green space and housing. The workshops helped residents engage with forming the aspirations of the policies that will go in their neighbourhood plan, but in a way that does not exclude people without formal education.

Events have also been used to engage the local community. A monthly coffee morning lets residents know what’s happening with the neighbourhood plan and a community planning day saw over 150 people attend including local authority officers (which helped residents feel their plan was being taken seriously). Celebration events have also been held to let everyone know of successes such as keeping the play area open.

The group has also developed good relationship with their local authority. Planning can be an emotive subject and bring out the different views people hold about sites, development or future growth. Engaging positively with local planning authority officers and decision makers helps build good relationships. In Lawrence Weston’s experience it’s important to get your group’s constitution and set up right, and make sure everyone understands how it will work. Your group isn’t there to shout at council officers! Have a look at Lawrence Weston’s code of conduct (pdf).

Next steps

large_meetingWhile work continues on the neighbourhood plan, Lawrence Weston has secured money from the Homes and Communities Agency to appoint architects for their community health hub. Residents will continue to be involved in shaping the development of their own community.

Top tips

  • Go to where people are, don’t expect them to come to you
  • Linking with existing community groups is a good way to get your message across and reach people
  • Get local people involved in door knocking or delivering questionnaires – a familiar face may encourage people to engage
  • Share your experiences and learn from other neighbourhood planning groups – it’s good for confidence building
  • Film is a powerful way to get people’s views across (watch Ambition Lawrence Weston's videos)
  • Use art as a tool for engagement (e.g. community artists can deliver workshops in schools)
  • Find some quick wins to show your group can deliver
  • Get high level support from your local authority and demonstrate to local people that you have it
  • Keep people in the loop using different methods such as Twitter, Facebook, newsletters etc
  • Support and train community leaders as they play a key role in engaging others
  • Think ahead to how you’ll monitor and implement your plan
  • Think about whether you can keep it simple. You can have a neighbourhood plan with a small number of policies if that’s right for your area. Focus on the key things.

Many thanks to Helen Bone and Ambition Lawrence Weston for their help with this case study. These case studies are produced by Planning Aid England as part of the Supporting Communities in Neighbourhood Planning programme, funded by the Department for Communities and Local Government and delivered by a consortium led by Locality.

Photo credits

© All photos are copyright Ambition Lawrence Weston