Wing Civil Parish Neighbourhood Plan (Buckinghamshire, UK)
- General Issues
- Planning & Development
- Specific Topics
- Citizenship & Role of Citizens
- Scope of Influence
- Start Date
- End Date
- Time Limited or Repeated?
- A single, defined period of time
- Face-to-Face, Online, or Both
- Communication of Insights & Outcomes
- Public Report
Passed by Parliament in 2011, the UK Localism Act devolved power over planning and development to community and local governments. The Civil Parish of Wing used the Localism Act's provisions to undertake a series of public consultations on the neighbourhood's development plans.
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Problems and Purpose
After the passing of the Localism Act by the UK Parliament in 2011, power over planning and development was largely devolved to community and local governments. The Civil Parish of Wing quickly embraced the Localism Act's provisions, embarking on a series of public consultations to plan their neighbourhood's future development.
Background History and Context
The Localism Act was introduced into the UK Parliament in 2011 with the intent to:
- Give new freedoms and flexibilities to Local government
- Provide new rights and powers to communities and individuals
- Reform the planning system to be more democratic and effective
- Reform the decision-making process to ensure housing is under local control (A plain English guide to the Localism Act, 2011)
The Act was quickly passed and local communities found themselves with new powers of planning and development. The Civil Parish of Wing embraced a participatory approach to use of these new powers and worked closely with their parishioners to develop a long-term development plan for the neighbourhood.
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
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Participant Recruitment and Selection
Wing has a population of 2153 people, all of which were encouraged to participate in forums held to discuss newly secured powers. Every member of the village received a flyer, providing information about how Wing wanted to use the Localism Act to alter certain developments and they also provided times, places and dates for every forum held. Similar to flyers, posters were distributed in seven different places around the village, including a church, library, village hall and a doctor’s surgeries. Absolutely no groups were excluded from participating in any forums or discussions; people were strongly encouraged to get involved and one forum specifically requested that businesses attend. Questionnaires were distributed at all forums in an attempt to gather data on public opinion on how the new powers of the Localism Act could best be used. When speaking with the Chair of the Wing Parish Council, Lynn Stuart, she stated that the only issues they came across when gathering participants and distributing important information was that people who were housebound could do very little, since they could not participate in the forums and were often unaware of their existence (Stuart 2017). In a personal correspondence, the Chair of the parish council stated that two of the forums they held had absolutely no attendees, highlighting the impressive dispersion of information that eventually took place (Ibid.).
Methods and Tools Used
Public consultation took the form of questionnaires and community forums.
Deliberation, Decisions, and Public Interaction
The Council held 13 forums prior to completion of the plan and one forum after the draft plan was published. As Section Four of the plan states, the first two forums in November 2011, covered a wide range of topics, from the environment to the economy. There were a very promising 94 replies to the pre-vision questionnaire, which intended to gauge exactly what people wanted from the Neighbourhood plan to start with. Three business forums were then held, with every business in the Village being invited. A specific questionnaire was designed and received 10 replies. Two further displays were held in June 2012 at a Village Carnival and Fete respectively, attempting to raise awareness of the new plan. No questionnaires were distributed at this point as it was merely an attempt to educate and inform the public. Four further forums were held and the council received 94 replies to their questionnaire. These forums focused less on planning and more on the environment and wildlife. These questionnaires asked for people’s opinions on the environment and footpaths etc. In order to understand which aspects of the environment should be considered most important during development. Data was also gathered on road safety, internet access, business and commuting.
The most encouraging part of the planning process came in October 2013, when 372 people attended forums that discussed the suitability of two different building sites within the village. 244 questionnaires were received (some were completed online prior to the forum). Since not building any houses in Wing was never an option, these forums were important in gauging public attitudes towards the inevitable developments, and wanted to know which site the people preferred. A joint forum was held in December 2013, with developers Martin Grant Homes and Taylor Wimpey (each opting for different sites).
On the 7th April 2014, a draft of the plan was published with all background documents. Hard copies were distributed to any invested parties such as the developers, local archaeological groups, local businesses and British Heritage. Hard copies were also places in many key areas around the village such as a doctor’s surgeries and the village hall. Copies were kept on email as well and a website and Facebook page allowed anyone who was interested to view the plan online. This lead to feedback from 46 individuals and a total of 137 comments. Any proposed changes were then considered by the Parish council on the 30th May 2014. Weekly forums were also held on Friday evenings and Saturday mornings, ensuring that everyone was given a chance to come and ask questions.
Following this, the Plan was submitted to Aylesbury Vale Development Council for further examination and public comment. The Wing Parish Council received the ammended draft on 14 January 2015 and a referendum was scheduled. The referendum on 16 March 2015 had a turnout rate of just over 35% and the Plan was adopted with over 94% of those voting in favour (Anderson).
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
The council and the developers used these forums to answer questions and refine their plans which were presented in a forum in early 2014 and eventually in a draft plan. The Parish Council expressed their surprise in a personal correspondance at the manner in which the public vote was split between the two sites, meaning both sets of development could go ahead. Prior to the introduction of the Act, the developers would have applied for planning permission separately from the parish council and intended to build 100 properties on just one site. Due to the Act, and the participation of the public, 108 dwellings (54 houses on each site) was eventually decided upon). One sight was originally denied planning permission three times by Aylesbury Vale District Council and it wasn’t until they agreed to work with Wing Parish Council that their plans could go ahead, after adequate planning and public consultation.
All the forums and consultation evenings lead to the creation of a draft plan; a 41 page document, setting out plans for development and conservation within Wing, as well as providing background information on the history of the village. The draft plan was sent to a village wide referendum, where any village member over the age of 18 was eligible to vote. Unsurprisingly, the plan was passed by 760 votes to 42, meaning that anything that was laid out in the Neighbourhood Plan, had been legitimised as per the 2011 Localism Act, and was now a legal document.
Covering the period 2014-2031 the Plan is an incredibly comprehensive document, providing historical information about the village, detailed explanations of the planning process for developments in Wing and information on how the final plan was agreed upon. Through the creation of the Plan, the parish council embrassed its new role in the planning of local development. The Plan is probably the most important aspect of the Act's implementation. Before, if a council sought planning permission or sought to object to a development, there was little to help them do this. Now, the Neighbourhood Plan can be legitimised by a village referendum which makes it a legal document, meaning it can be used in future discussions. This gives the councils support when issues regarding development. The Act also allowed councils to bid on any land which is a recognised community asset. The Act gave Wing the opportunity to work closely with housing developers, something which was not easily available prior to 2011.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
Given the forum attendance, questionnaire responses and general community comments, it can be concluded that the people of Wing embraced the ability to direct the new found powers of their parish council. A referendum turnout of 35% (760/2153) has turned out to be relatively impressive (compared to other Parishes within Aylesbury) but the most overwhelming statistic is the 94% ‘Yes’ vote supporting the initiation of a Neighbourhood plan. This signifies the extent to which the people of Wing put their views forward to both the council and the developers and also, the extent to which the council and the developers listened to these views and attempted to legitimise them through the plan. It cannot be doubted that decisions of planning were taken locally, as the act intended. Considering that the public had no option to object to any houses being built, it is a testament to the Localism Act, and the manner in which it allows Neighbourhood plans to be conducted by local governments uninterrupted that two building sites were eventually settled upon. The Examiner’s Report of Wing’s plan, provided by Aylesbury Vale District Council (AVDC), stressed the ‘robust approach to public consultation’ that a ‘Yes’ vote signifies (Alcock, 2015). The Examiner’s Report strongly commended the democratic side of the plan that the Localism Act provides and how it was utilised by Wing Parish council. In addition, much of the minor levels of criticism was directed towards details such as drawing and labelling, not the consultation process. Criticism of the consultation process tended to be specific to individuals. Having attended several forums, I noticed some people spoke of their dislike towards specific aspects of the plan, such as building sites and 42 people voted ‘No’ to implementing the plan during the referendum. However, any public criticism was not directed towards the methods used by the council to involve the citizens of Wing.
Wing Parish Council said that if they had to go through the process again, they would benefit from some expertise regarding the questionnaires, which they felt were too generic and that they were not ready to handle the data that they were asking the public for. The Parish Council told me that they would’ve been ‘more focused’ had they received more information at the start of the process. Other than this, they felt their plan was robust and thorough. Even more interestingly, AVDC estimates that other parishes should be passing their plans in only 10-15 months (Neighbourhood development Plan Guidance, 2012), whereas Wing’s plan took four years. Although this is no fault or discredit to Wing, it is worth noting that their meticulous levels of public consultation may not be available to other parishes who also wish to use the powers afforded to them by the Localism Act.
Given the relatively small scale of Wing’s success with the Localism Act, there is almost no press coverage. However, as I’ve already mentioned, the large amounts of advertising throughout the village meant that people were always kept up to date with the plan through weekly village newsletters.
The Council also conveyed to me though an email, their frustration rather than surprise at the differing levels of participation. The turn out from the 25-35 age group was ‘disappointing’ and, as they expected, it was difficult to engage younger people. They suspected that most of the younger generations were not as interested in the ‘wider issues’ such as the environment and they only seemed to participate when they took issue with something specific such as housing sites. Democratic engagement among young people is arguably a worldwide problem so this is unsurprising. What surprised me was the 25-35 year olds are very likely to be seeking housing or have children for the first time so the fact that they only chose to engage with housing issues and not other issues that could also affect them such as schooling or road safety is possibly something to be explored further.
Participatory Urban Planning (method)
Alcock, J., 2015. A Report to Aylesbury Vale District Council of the Examination into the Wing Neighbourhood Plan.
Anderson, Louise, March 16th 2015, "Council Report for the Making of the the Wing Neighbourhood Plan," https://www.aylesburyvaledc.gov.uk/sites/default/files/page_downloads/20...
Aylesbury Vale District Council, 2012. Neighbourhood Plan Development Guide.
Aylesbury Vale District Council, 2015. Wing Neighbourhood Plan. https://www.aylesburyvaledc.gov.uk/wing-neighbourhood-plan
Clark, G., 2011. A plain English guide to the Localism Act. Department for Communities and Local Government.
Stuart, L., November 4th, 2017. Localism Act. (Personal Correspondence via e-mail)
Wing Parish Council, September 2014. Wing Neighbourhood Plan. (2014-2031)
Localism Act 2011: https://services.parliament.uk/bills/2010-11/localism.html
Final Wing Neighbourhood Plan 2014-31 https://www.aylesburyvaledc.gov.uk/sites/default/files/page_downloads/Final-Wing-NP.pdf
Lead image: Wing Heritage Group https://goo.gl/q5jNM5