The leaders in Burgess Hill, West Sussex, England, worked collaboratively with the Neighbourhood to develop a plan for future community development, also known as the Burgess Hill Neighbourhood Plan.
Problems and Purpose
Developing a Neighbourhood Plan empowered the community of Burgess Hill in England through a transparent process that continuously consulted with the community, ensuring that the policies created to influence future development were aligned with their perceived needs and visions. The problem can be described as unwanted development which by the help of England's National Planning Policy Framework and support from higher authorities, a Neighbourhood Plan became an understandable process and was easier for residents and community leaders to develop.
Background History and Context
England’s government supports the idea that local people should influence planning the development and regeneration of their communities because it ensures that the development is in the public interest and recognizes that locals have the best understanding of their needs in terms of improvements and what needs to be protected.
A Burgess Hill Local Plan was adopted in 1992 and replaced by the first district-wide Mid Sussex Local Plan of 2004, prepared with consultation in the local communities . This district-wide plan was updated and adopted once again in 2018 . The Burgess Hill Neighbourhood Plan of 2015 was the first to be developed based on a reformed national framework.
England’s Localism Act 2011 and the National Planning Policy Framework 2012 (NPPF) provided the basis for the framework that requires local planning authorities to engage with the community . These reforms gave planning powers back to local authorities and communities and made planning more accessible and understandable, as well as promoted sustainable growth and environmental protection .
On July 9th, 2012, Burgess Hill gained the approval of the Mid Sussex District Counsel for their submission of the proposed designated area. It would move on to the process of developing a timetable for the rest of the development process, signifying the completion of the first step in the planning process . As Burgess Hill developed and approved its 2015-2031 Neighbourhood Plan referendum on December 10th, 2015, five other communities in the Mid Sussex District also voted in favor of their Neighbourhood Plan Referendums in 2014 and 2015 .
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
The National Planning Policy Framework sets guidelines on how Neighbourhood Plans should be developed and who leads the process . In Burgess Hill, the Burgess Hill Town Council is designated to organize and prepare the Neighbourhood Plan and consultation with the community. In England, community, parish, and town councilors are a part of the National Association of Local Councils (NALC) and are independently elected . Mid-Sussex District Council supports the Burgess Hill Town Council by providing feedback and approving legal and policy compliance provided by the National Planning Policy Framework at key points in development. Individuals and other groups also provide input through feedback opportunities in collaboration with members of the Town Council and finally approve the final product through a democratic vote on the referendum.
Members of the Town Council worked cooperatively internally and delegated tasks such as the day-to-day management of the Plan to the Strategic Planning group, while the Lead Members Group comprised one elected council member from each ward,funding also came via the Town Council . The Lead Members Group met regularly throughout the process to decide how the information would be disseminated and to periodically evaluate and agree on the stages of the Plan. In these meetings, the Lead Members group drafted parts of the Plan, discussed the main issues gathered from each ward, and planned how to get inclusive feedback from the community . Lead Members played an integral role in convening and providing plentiful opportunities to the community.
Relevant Participedia organization entries:
Participant Recruitment and Selection
The Town Council oversaw seeking comments and suggestions from all residents and businesses in the Burgess Hill community while developing the Burgess Hill Neighbourhood Plan. It was important for councilors from each ward to hold meetings with their ward, but the councilors were also available to be contacted by telephone or email. In the first phase, the community was made aware of the Plan through informational pamphlets delivered to every household by Lead Members . The community was also informed throughout the progress through press releases in local publications and on the council’s website, including times and dates of public meetings . All community members were invited to attend the events, make comments, or submit responses without any enticements offered.
The invited input centered most on ideas of development or protection of existing facilities or open spaces . Some had concerns related to the impact of future development of public spaces or thoughts on the preservation of specific historic buildings.
Methods and Tools Used
The Burgess Hill Town Council took a participatory planning approach, giving residents several opportunities to discuss what they wanted to see in the Plan and their views on other perceived concerns in the community. Methods included community meetings or engagement events where residents could talk to the Council Members and fill out questionnaires. Residents were also given the option to fill out a questionnaire on their website or send comments by mail or email. Finally, Burgess Hill residents voted for the Neighbourhood Plan via referendum, a form of direct democracy showing whether a majority of residents were in favor of the final Plan. Participatory planning and referendum voting ensured accurate representation of changes wanted by the community.
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
Once the Burgess Hill Town Council received approval from the District Council for the designated area the Neighbourhood Plan would cover, the next step was for the Town Council to hold ward-level surgeries or consultation opportunities with the residents to gather initial ideas or suggestions concerning development needs or interests in their area. These events gave residents a chance to ask questions and convey what was important to them. This consultation phase consisted of eight surgeries in six wards over a period of 25 days from July 4th, 2012 . Each home in Burgess Hill received a copy of a leaflet that explained the Neighbourhood Plan and one that detailed when and where their relevant ward surgeries would take place. The ward leaflet also contained their corresponding ward Councilor's name, emails, and phone numbers and invited residents to contact them if they had any questions. The informational leaflet gave an overview of the background information, designated areas, a timescale, and what perspectives they sought from local groups and individuals. In the leaflet, the councilors invited residents to consider what is important to them regarding their perceived needs, problems, and other issues regarding resources related to the community. Residents unable to attend the surgeries could also complete a survey form on the Council’s website or send their response via email or mail. This background and participation information was also posted on information boards around town and was published in newspapers, magazines, and other press release materials. Attendance was recorded by the Council, and in total, over 150 people participated in this phase of developing the plan by attending sessions or sending in responses on the Council’s website . Community responses were recorded via questionnaires and from Ward Councilors’ summaries. These responses were used by the Town Council to create specific policies and as evidence of support for the Neighbourhood Plan policies. Some policies in the final Neighbourhood Plan derived from the recommendations at the ward consultations, which were characterized as a basis for their validity. Therefore, during these ward consultations, the community indicated the need to improve and retain the community and health facilities, as well as the leisure and recreational facilities. The community also suggested areas of new allotment space locations for growing food and open spaces.
In addition to the ward consultations, the Town Council felt it was appropriate to hold two drop-in sessions in November 2012 and March 2013. They were opportunities for residents who couldn’t attend ward surgeries to be informed about the progress and overview of the Plan, which was convened into a single strategy. The community could meet with ward Councilors and ask questions and complete questionnaires. Publicity on the drop-in sessions was distributed similarly to the ward consultations, excluding the delivery to each home. At the November Drop-In session, the Council recorded an attendance of 124 people and collected 48 written responses . At the March Drop-In session, the Council recorded an attendance of 273 people. This session was also to give an overview and display progress on specific areas and town policies. Questionnaires given at this event asked whether residents supported the objectives or had any comments about the different development areas and overall Plan. The responses for both drop-in sessions were synthesized by the Town Council and published in the Neighbourhood Plan. These summaries included support, suggestions, and concerns pertaining to the development policies of the Plan. Some policies in the final Neighbourhood Plan also derived from the responses at the drop-in events. The community identified areas and heritage assets that should be protected for conservation and enhanced for added value to the town. The community also suggested where pedestrian paths need crosswalks and supported completing a pedestrian path network. Support was also indicated for developing access and parking in the town and objection to back garden development. The key issues identified during the ward consultations and sessions also contributed to the Burgess Hill Neighbourhood Plan vision statement and core objectives.
Following the consultation period, the Town Council reviewed the comments made and made the appropriate changes to the draft Neighbourhood Plan before submitting it to the District Council. The District Council checked the draft Plan for legal compliance and appointed an independent examiner to examine the Plan.
Next, the Town Council began the draft Neighbourhood Plan pre-submission consultation period for six weeks beginning March 1st, 2014 . Members of the Town Council hosted eleven public meetings during this period to provide updated information on the Neighbourhood Plan. Publicity during this consultation period ran in newspapers, school newsletters, magazines, local social media pages, 18 notice boards, the Council’s website, and leaflets in businesses and facilities. The Plan and accompanying draft documents were also available at the library and in a static exhibition in a public facility. A councilor was also available at the Town Council’s offices to discuss the Plan with residents. The community was invited to give comments and feedback on the final policies. In this phase, 378 Burgess Hill residents went to the consultation events. The Town Council received 160 submissions by email or letter. All comments were put in a detailed spreadsheet and referenced by the Town Council in the final Neighbourhood Plan. Responses were then inserted into the spreadsheet and considered by the Strategic Planning Group, then the Full Council on July 21st, 2014 .
After this consultation period, the Town Council made appropriate changes and submitted to the District Council and an independent examiner to approve legal and policy compliance provided by the National Planning Policy Framework. Once the Plan was approved, the final stage of this participatory process was voting on the referendum for adoption. Anyone registered to vote in the area covered by the Neighbourhood Plan was entitled to vote . The referendum vote on December 10th, 2015, had a 21% turnout, where 4131 voted “yes” out of 4878 votes in total .
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
Developing this Plan accomplished its purpose of empowering the community, residents, and town representatives to make development decisions. The Town Council and those in the community that commented participated in events to talk about development so that the community could grow in the best way to provide for improved facilities but protect from development where it is not wanted.
The policy outcomes from the adopted Neighbourhood Plan featured five major policy topics adopted by the community of Burgess Hill . The “Town Centre” policies outlined the intended development and improvements for five significant areas. The “Sustainable Neighbourhoods for Communities” section created four policies that will result in social and environmental improvements, such as specific residential development and protection of existing facilities. The “Leisure and Recreation” and “Heritage & Character” policy topics focus on improving recreational facilities and protecting the character of the small town. Lastly, policies focused on “Green Infrastructure” demonstrate a commitment to protecting the environment, including green spaces, connecting footpaths and cycleways, and developing more biodiversity.
Other Influence: No other influence was found on similar initiatives.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
A report to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government identified that neighborhood planning improves design policy, refines local priorities, and fosters engagement with local planning authorities . Although one challenge local planning authorities identified is that the process is burdensome in terms of time, developing a Neighbourhood Plan is achievable with the available support. There is also evidence that a Neighbourhood Plan generates community buy-in, as it was found that “community attitudes to development may become more positive as a result of the NP experience” . It was also found that Neighbourhood Plans do have an influence on decision-making in practice . One area of improvement that might be considered is how to provide better support and tools for towns that want to develop a plan for their community .
This participatory planning process illustrates how the community can work with their leaders to implement the best ideas for benefitting their community. Multiple chances to be involved and the element of transparency and engagement created a holistic plan with community buy-in, which leads to greater satisfaction and a sense of belonging to where people live.
 Mid Sussex District Council. (2004, May). Mid Sussex Local Plan. Retrieved from https://www.midsussex.gov.uk: https://www.midsussex.gov.uk/media/3285/local-plan-2004-introduction.pdf
 Mid Sussex District Council. (n.d.). Local Plan 2004. Retrieved from https://www.midsussex.gov.uk: https://www.midsussex.gov.uk/planning-building/local-plan-2004/
 Burgess Hill Town Council. (2015, October). Burgess Hill Neighbourhood Plan Referendum. Retrieved from https://www.burgesshill.gov.uk: http://www.burgesshill.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/Referendum_Burgess_Hill_Neighbourhood_Plan.pdf
 City of Bradford Metropolitan District Council. (n.d.). National Planning Policy. Retrieved from https://www.bradford.gov.uk: https://www.bradford.gov.uk/planning-and-building-control/planning-policy/localism-and-national-planning-policy-framework/
 Burgess Hill Town Council. (2015, January). Consultation Statement. Retrieved from https://www.burgesshill.gov.uk: http://www.burgesshill.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/ubmission_Consultation_Statement_for_website.pdf
 Declaration of Result of Poll. (2015, December 11). (T. Clark, Producer, & Counting Officer) Retrieved from https://www.midsussex.gov.uk: https://www.midsussex.gov.uk/media/1120/burgess_hill_declaration_of_result.pdf
 National Planning Policy Framework. (2012, March). (Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government) Retrieved from https://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk: https://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/ukgwa/20180608095821/https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/national-planning-policy-framework--2
 Campaign to Protect Rural England. (2019, May). How to shape where you live: a guide to neighbourhood planning. Retrieved from https://www.cpresussex.org.uk: https://www.cpresussex.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/sites/16/2021/03/How_to_shape_where_you_live.pdf
 Burgess Hill Town Council. (n.d.). Neighbourhood Plan. Retrieved from https://www.burgesshill.gov.uk: https://www.burgesshill.gov.uk/strategic-planning-economic-development/neighbourhood-plan/
 Parker, P., Wargent, D., Salter, D., Dobson, D., Lynn, D., & Yuille, D. (2020, May, p. 3). Impacts of Neighbourhood Planning. Retrieved from https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/929422/Impacts_of_Neighbourhood_Planning_in_England.pdf
 Parker et al. (2020, May, p. 4).
 Parker et al. (2020, May, p. 5).
The first version of this case entry was written by Cameron Witt, a Master of Public Service candidate at the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service, and then edited. The views expressed in the entry are those of the authors, editors, or cited sources, and are not necessarily those of the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service.