Leeds: a case study about involving students in neighbourhood planning


Leeds City Council has led the way in developing opportunities for students to participate in neighbourhood planning. Since 2012, the Council has coordinated a programme with Leeds Beckett University to ensure planning students are able to provide support to communities in the Leeds area who are undertaking neighbourhood plans. The programme has also allowed students to enjoy work experience with the Council and has also seen students from Leeds Trinity University and Leeds University taking part.

How have students supported neighbourhood planning groups?

Students have completed placements with both parish councils and interim forums, where they have gained ‘hands on’ experience of the planning process that provides an invaluable supplement to their university modules. Postgraduate research students have also been able to offer their skills and time. In turn, many communities have benefitted from this arrangement, including Holbeck, Beeston, Seacroft, Boston Spa, Barwick in Scholes, Rawdon and Otley.

Leeds_flyer_webThe support provided by the students has been diverse and wide-ranging, including:

  • Evidence gathering and research
  • Consultation and engagement
  • Preparation of supporting documents
  • Assistance with IT, design, photography, workshops and administration.

All have helped students hone their own skills whilst saving the communities time and money.

Learning points

The experience of student participation in Leeds suggests that in the initial stages both students and communities will benefit from closer management and that it is important to assess and match community needs and student skills. Students also maximised their experiences when they worked in pairs or groups, which was also of greater benefit to the communities.

Benefits of student involvement

Shops_in_HolbeckFormer student volunteers have found the chance to participate in neighbourhood planning hugely rewarding. One stated that it helped ‘develop my professional understanding of community engagement and improved myself-confidence, enabling me to shift from student to professional.’ One community group described the help of students as ‘invaluable’. One former student was so taken by their experience that they have continued their involvement, ‘regularly attending forum meetings and providing advice and general support.’

Top tips

  • Think about general skills students have and how they may be able to help you with your plan (e.g. taking photos and helping with events)
  • Find out if there’s a university in your area which has an accredited planning school. Make contact to see if they are interested in working with you and what they might be able to offer.

Many thanks to Ian Mackay, Team Leader, Leeds City Council for his 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

© Photos of shops and street in Holbeck copyright Holbeck Neighbourhood Forum

© Photo of Seacroft poster copyright Leeds City Council