Town Planning Review 86.5 Best Paper: free online access for a limited time only!
The editors of Town Planning Review have chosen 'Localism in practice: lessons from a pioneer neighbourhood plan in England' by Dr John Sturzaker and Professor Dave Shaw to be the best paper in Volume 86 Issue 5. The article is now freely available online for a limited time.
Dr John Sturzaker and Professor Dave Shaw have produced one of the first in-depth studies of the new Neighbourhood Planning powers, introduced in England through the 2011 Localism Act. These powers allow local communities to produce plans for the areas where they live, decided upon by a referendum – a unique experiment in participatory and direct democracy with implications that reach far beyond the English context.
The paper investigates several aspects of the Neighbourhood Planning system through a case study of the Upper Eden area in Cumbria, one of the most sparsely populated parts of England. That case study is used to test some of the underpinning principles of localism and challenge common assumptions about who gets involved in community activism, and why, including the idea that communities are often inherently resistant to new housing development. The paper concludes that localism can be a successful way of broadening involvement in planning and other forms of state-led activity, but that great care must be taken to ensure that participatory processes are as broad as possible; and that in the English case considerable scope remains with so-called “higher” levels of government – the local authority – to frame and constrain what goes on at the community level. It also finds that many people in rural areas are positive about the opportunities that new housing can bring to the places they live, challenging the assumption that people who live in the countryside are all “NIMBYs”.
Dr Sturzaker said “the UK Government has argued that their localism agenda is a ground-breaking initiative that shifts power away from the centre to local communities and the people who live within them. We have found that this is true to an extent, but that, as is often the case with reforms like this, that there is likely to be a great deal of local variation in the extent to which communities are truly empowered”. Professor Shaw noted “one of the things we have demonstrated is that rural communities are diverse in their attitudes towards new development – the Upper Eden is one example of a rural area that actively welcomes new housing and is keen to escape what has been called the ‘sustainability trap’. This is just one example of the diversity in the countryside that can easily be forgotten by policy makers and commentators”.