Spatial planning and sustainable development were covered in last month's article (Planning, 5 November, p30) and community involvement has an equal place in both our affections and our workload. The RTPI has embarked on a community involvement project, again funded by the ODPM, to help local planning authorities and the private sector to support and extend practice in the ways in which they engage communities and the public in planning. The key to this is the planning aid programme, which is changing the ways in which communities see planning - more of which at www.planningaid.rtpi.org.uk. As planning aid gets into its stride, it is already finding effective and not so effective practice by local authorities and the development industry on community involvement as well as providing direct help and advice for communities and individuals.
There can be no better time to do this work. Community engagement is now high up the agenda in a way that it has not been since the early 1970s - not that I remember this. One of the most challenging changes to the planning system in England is the move to "front load" involvement in local planning and to make the process continuous. The statements of community involvement require fresh thinking and a real understanding of different community needs if they are to be worth the paper that they are written on. Latest pressure on the development industry only to make applications when they have sought community involvement adds to the need for both looking afresh at techniques and examining attitudes and abilities.
The community involvement project follows the lead set by the RTPI's New Vision four years ago. This stated that "the New Vision sees planning as an activity undertaken by society as a whole, an activity that requires the active participation of all the people, communities and interests involved, an activity facilitated, but not owned, by professional planners".
This commitment will run throughout the project. It will identify case studies of effective practice and it will disseminate these through training, guidance and seminars. All of this is done in the recognition that some planners will see this renewed interest in the community as laughable - and yet another burden - at a time when the pressure is on to deliver plans and approvals more speedily than ever. One of the challenges for the project is to demonstrate ways in which community involvement sits well in a target-based system and, above all, how it contributes to raising the quality of decisions and development.
At the heart of the project will be a network of people involvement in community involvement. This is based on the ROOMatRTPI community planning forum. If you want to join this network, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you want to discuss this project or be involved more directly in it, e-mail me at email@example.com.