Land-use champions seek a collective community voice

The Civic Society Initiative is urging planners to help push for better quality places, explains Tony Burton.

With localism on the lips of politicians of all parties, and planning authorities and developers expected to do more to engage their communities, the need for strong and effective local community voices has never been more crucial. It was, therefore, inopportune at best for the Civic Trust to close earlier this year, leaving the country's network of civic and amenity societies without a collective voice.

The civic society movement is probably the most active participant in land-use planning in the country. There are more than 1,000 local societies with a membership of at least 250,000. At their best, they provide a focus for voluntary and community action to improve the places where people live and work. They champion the importance of these places and play a vital role in helping individuals and communities understand and take action to improve the quality of life through the place in which they live.

Civic societies promote and celebrate the best of what is inherited and being developed for the future. They are independent, grass-roots organisations and can be provocative, inspiring and outspoken on behalf of the places they care about, which stimulates people to widen their horizons. They have expert knowledge about local places and are often found resisting damaging change while encouraging positive action. Much of their potential to help the nation discover and listen to its communities is untapped.

The Civic Society Initiative (CSI) was formed in June to find a way forward to strengthen the movement following the loss of the trust. I am involving the grass roots of the civic society movement in drawing up future plans. The movement is not without its challenges. It tends to work through committees and the geography and make-up of civic societies veers towards the older, wealthier parts of society.

The RTPI is contributing its thoughts and ideas on what the civic society movement now needs. It could be a more effective campaigning force and it lacks the support and advice needed to raise its profile and influence. The CSI aims to tackle these challenges to function more independently. Let us know if you have any thoughts and ideas. We will all benefit from having a more informed and effective community voice.

Tony Burton is director of the CSI and a community campaigner. For more information, please visit or email

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