The national aim of the Place Plan process is to enable the Welsh planning system to improve its engagement in planning decisions at a local level. Place Plans are a relatively new concept in Welsh Planning and while their structure is still evolving we know enough to be able to recommend how OpusMap can help deliver a Place Plan efficiently and economically.
What is clear is that community participation and local stakeholder engagement are integral to the successful implementation and adoption of a Place Plan. The planning process requires the commitment of town and community councils and their residents to get behind the plan in order drive it forward. By enabling ‘community ownership’ of the Place Plan, increased involvement of its residents can be established.
How can this be achieved without breaking the bank or allowing a free for all?
With limited time and resources within Welsh Councils, encouraging communities to take the lead can be difficult particularly if there is a lack of familiarity at a local level in the planning process. It can seem daunting and opinions about the planning process are often negative with a perception that decisions are not taken in the interests of the community and its residents.
These issues have influenced the creation of the Place Plan toolkit, developed by OpusMap in conjunction with Conwy County Borough Council.
The Toolkit is comprised of several digital and offline resources that a Town and Community Council are able to adopt and adapt to deliver multiple content and communication channels that enable the development of a Place Plan to be driven by residents.
The graphic below gives an outline of the resources available to communities.
The webtool is an online resource that can be used by communities to enable the following:
- Public registration to the Place Plan to be kept up to date with developments and discussions in their community
- Access to all development plans and documents relating to the Place Plan area
- An interactive map of the Place Plan area with address search for finding policies and information about what they represent and their current status
- Comment and response sections to allow the public to submit ideas and opinions and to encourage discussions on policies and plans via other web and social media channels such as Facebook (see below)
Using channels such as Facebook, Twitter & Instagram helps to develop awareness of the Place Plan in a community and encourages the engagement of residents by breaking down the walls of ‘formal’ planning processes by bringing it onto platforms that residents are both familiar and comfortable using and engaging with. These platforms allow residents to drive the conversation and discuss developments for their community on any device, at any time and in any location.
The toolkit provides the resources to develop Web and social media channels in the most effective way with specific targeting, message templates and translations.
Social media was used successfully as part of the Abergele Place Plan gaining the support of local businesses and residents. See examples below:
Asking the right questions will encourage conversation from your audience. The topic of Pentre Mawr park in the example above was very popular because it appealed to sports fans, dog walkers and families alike.
Gaining the support of local business people can boost the profile of a Place Plan. Most businesses in Abergele displayed posters, postcards and badges in store but a mention and/or a photo on social media is a great advertising for them too. It adds to the sense of the Place Plan being a local initiative for local residents and businesses.
The toolkit also provides logos, graphics, poster and postcard templates to create offline resources to support the planning process. For example, to advertise planning workshops and exhibitions and also to guide residents to the online resources and encourage them to get involved in the plan’s development.
For Place Plans to succeed as an instrument for helping in the development of planning policy, residents and their community representatives must believe that participation in the Place Plan process will influence planning policy and development decisions taken at a corporate level. To that end, the purpose of the Place Plan and how it relates to the LDP and to other corporate Plans must be clearly communicated by the Council. There is a balance to be struck between how Councils provide guidance and support to Place Plans and how communities take ownership of their own Place Plan and initiate stakeholder engagement among local residents, community groups and businesses. Transparency of approach is important.
The toolkit offers a mechanism for maintaining that balance and for making the process transparent. Delivering the toolkit to communities via Conwy County Borough Council means that the “bigger picture” is communicated to each community in terms of the role and influence their Place Plan will have in the planning process and the Council’s commitment to the process.
The toolkit offers the Council consistency and economies of scale in how each Place Plan is implemented by taking advantage of easily accessible technologies and digital platforms that through tried and tested configuration lend themselves to public participation and engagement.
In turn, the toolkit allows each Place Plan community to take a direct and significant stake in the development of their Place Plan, in its content and in the determination of the planning and development priorities for the community that the Council is being asked to address. It delivers a dynamic platform for local engagement that maximises the amount of available time and public space in which residents can both be kept informed and have their direct say in shaping the future of their community.