Initiative engages young people in planning

Planning Aid North's educational programme gives children a voice in building sustainable and strong communities, maintains Kevin Lillie.

Twelve months ago, the DCLG published the local government white paper. This outlines a vision for revitalised local authorities working with partners to reshape public services for communities.

The document helped individuals and families to make a difference, both to their own lives and the communities in which they live. Last month, this voice was strengthened further when the government published public service delivery agreement 21, Building More Cohesive, Empowered and Active Communities. It recommends a range of actions, including giving children and young people opportunities to participate and influence decision-making as confident and responsible citizens.

Young people form 25 per cent of our population and they have constructive views, so they should be at the heart of building strong and more sustainable communities. In recognition of this, Planning Aid North (PAN) launched its Planning Education for Young People programme three years ago.

This was introduced at a time when the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 encouraged local authorities to engage with communities through the planning system. Meanwhile, the Children Act 2004, through the Every Child Matters agenda, placed a responsibility on local authorities to ensure that young people make a positive contribution. This document aimed to safeguard their health, safety and economic well-being.

PAN, working in partnership with North Tyneside Education Business Partnership, recognised the value that planning studies could bring to the curriculum. They have now developed 48 schemes of work, including lesson plans and activities, on a wide range of planning and regeneration topics. All of the project studies are geared towards encouraging the dialogue between planners and young people.

Two years ago, PAN embarked on a study with North Tyneside Council through its Community Planning Forums for Young People project. This explored the opportunities for formally involving young people in the planning system.

With the support of the area's children's strategy group, part of the council's young people's framework, the project team launched a pilot scheme with four secondary schools in North Shields. More than 600 students contributed to the council's green space strategy, as well as carrying out audits on a number of open spaces. Some primary schools contributed through a planning enterprise day.

The value of this initiative was recognised by all concerned. With its vision to involve young people in decision-making, the council is seen as a community champion. In collaboration with PAN, it is looking at expanding its programme to deliver a children and young people's plan. PAN is transferring experience to its support programmes in County Durham and Newcastle.

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