Filling the vacuum
Revolution may be in the air of planning but there is a distinct information black hole around the concept of 'localism' and the Localism Bill, currently wending its way through the Parliamentary procedures.
This made the timing right for Places Matter! to hold a series of workshops to help people address the subject. Just how much people wanted to find out about the coalition's new vision for the way we do planning was demonstrated by the 'house full' sign at each venue, where there has been a mood of both apprehension and eagerness from a mixed audience of community activists, local authority planners and elected members, consultants and other stakeholders.
There is apprehension around the implications of coming to terms with yet another change in culture and process in planning at a time of financial cuts; mixed with genuine eagerness to work together at community level to develop 'bottom-up' planning, explore the new opportunities that localism opens up and find new ways of dealing with some of the bigger issues that now fall to local authorities to resolve.
The challenge for the presenters has been to compress a huge amount of constantly changing information into a digestible form and the first two workshops in Southport and Macclesfield were very much the guinea pigs.
Some people were confused by the new terminology and the complexity of it all, others overwhelmed by the amount of information - we will continue to change the material in the light of feedback and as the Parliamentary debate evolves. However, others clearly found the format helpful. 'A thoroughly intense, most valuable event. I learnt a lot!' was one comment; and what shone through most of all was the way people engaged positively with the open discussions and the energy and capability that people involved in planning have for making theirs' a better place.
The North West is up for Localism and will rise to both the challenge and the opportunity.
Michael Hayes is director of Michael Hayes Consulting, an urban planning and community engagement advisor.