How we did it: Involving lots of locals in Lakes plan-making

Seven per cent of Lake District residents responded to the park authority's draft local plan. Colin Marrs finds out why.

Lake District National Park Authority (l-r): Paula Allen, strategy planner; Hannah Latty, team leader, strategy and planning policy; Robert Allison, strategy planner and Laura Ross, strategy planner
Lake District National Park Authority (l-r): Paula Allen, strategy planner; Hannah Latty, team leader, strategy and planning policy; Robert Allison, strategy planner and Laura Ross, strategy planner

Project: Attracting a high level of participation for the Lake District National Park local plan consultation

Organisations involved: Lake District National Park Authority

The Lake District National Park Authority picked up the Editor’s Award at this year’s Planning Awards. Its consultation on its draft plan for 2020-35 secured consultation responses from seven per cent of the resident population, a proportion judges noted was unusually high. The hard work involved in reaching out to those who do not normally engage in the planning process has paid dividends, according to those behind the exercise.

The Lake District plan is the only one in the UK that entirely covers a UNESCO World Heritage Site, according to the authority. The area, covering 2,292 square kilometres, was granted the status in 2017.

"At the outset of the process, we spent a lot of time talking about how we make planning seem relevant to the lives of our residents," says Hanna Latty, team leader of strategy and planning policy at the authority. "Most people don’t spend a lot of time thinking about strategic planning, but we all know it impacts on their lives."

Instead of launching straight into the consultation, the team prepared the ground with an awareness-raising campaign, with a particular focus on groups that it had traditionally found hard to involve, such as young people.

A series of short films was commissioned on three themes felt to be particularly important to the area’s residents: farming, communities and business and investment. Young people were invited to ask questions on topics including social housing via social media, and the director of sustainable development at the authority was filmed answering them. "Young people are the people who will be affected the most by the affordable housing issue over the plan period, but they don’t always get involved with planning consultations," Latty says.

The films also explored the history of the area, subtly showing how planning policies had helped shape the environment of today. Robert Allison, planning officer at the authority, says: "From previous consultations we knew people don’t always see what plans mean in reality, and the idea was to shine a light on their outcomes." The films were published on the council’s website and YouTube and promoted through social media. The public could also view them at public libraries, Allison says.

According to Latty, this ten-week pre-consultation process warmed people up to thinking about the ideas that would be discussed. The planning authority had already been working on an evidence base from which it produced a draft plan, which in turn was released for public consultation for eight weeks in the summer of 2018, soon after the pre-consultation process closed.

The main issues raised through the consultation were to do with housing and access to better-paid jobs, says Allison. The council put forward a policy raising the number of planned new homes from 60 a year in the existing plan to 80 a year. The policy sought to achieve high levels of housing for those in the greatest need, and plenty of affordable housing, and does not support open market housing, Allison says.

The council also implemented a communications plan to identify parts of the population that it might otherwise find hard to reach with the draft plan. It employed a consultant to identify hard-to-reach demographic groups and engage them through social media. "We didn’t just want to speak to the people we always speak to," says Latty.

As well as more traditional methods – letters to residents and businesses and presentations to parish councils – the planners also implemented other new methods of engagement. "Rather than using traditional village halls, we held events in pubs and tourist destinations, such as Lakeland Motor Museum and Lowther Castle, all with the aim of meeting new and different audiences," says Allison.

The team decided to keep the amount of printed material at these events to a minimum, while making use of digital tools. "We had a summary document, but felt that we should allow people to delve deeper if they chose to," says Allison. The council used detailed information from its website and PDFs as tools for the event. "We didn’t stand up and talk – we had a series of laptops and sat down with people in groups of two and three to answer their questions," says Latty.

The process resulted in 4,600 comments from 2762 individuals – around seven per cent of the park’s population of 40,000. The majority of policies were supported by the public, both in their aims and their formulation. However, the wording of one policy – on enhancing visitors’ experience of the Lake District – received lower support at around 70 per cent

According to Allison, the aims of the policy were supported by around 85 per cent of respondents, but the less positive feedback on its wording prompted the authority to remove it and pursue its objectives through other policies in the document "so they were easier to understand".

Following the changes, a pre-submission consultation on a second draft was a lower-key affair. The council submitted the document to the Planning Inspectorate on 1 August.

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