Leighton Linslade Town Council appointed Planning For Real in order to consult citizens of the town on what features should be considered in their park's 20 year plan.
Problems and Purpose
The aim of the participatory parks planning was to offer the required maintenance and expansion of park facilities that the growing local population needed rather than the council deciding themselves and possibly missing key aspects. Planning For Real (PFR), the name of the company hired to undertake this task, employed the use of the Planning for Real® system (the name of the methodology) which is a type of Community Driven Development (CDD). This method aided in not only visualising possible changes to the parks space, but also inputting a variety of opinions from many people directly involved in the use and necessity of the parks to ensure the best outcomes are put into place.
Background History and Context
One may ask why it was necessary for the council to take the new approach to their local development as Leighton Linslade council had never employed the use of PFR before. According to a report by Leighton Linslade Town Council one can find an abundance of information as to why. The report outlines there had been ‘rapid’ growth in population and infrastructure over the last decade or so, indicating that high levels of change are occurring in the town with no assurance of significant input from the populace themselves. This is paired with the contextual note that at the time of the consultation, the Olympics were being prepared to be held in London, only just over an hour drive from Leighton Linslade. This meant demand for sport and its popularity had increased locally in recent times and the council were aware they must keep up to speed with the demands. In order to keep the people of the town involved in decision making, two ‘Big Plans’ were developed via ‘extensive public consultation’ according to the Planning Report (Leighton Linslade Town Council, 2020). PFR had not been used in the town before this point and as such, it was one of the first developments in public consultation the town had used during its ‘Big Plan II’.
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
Leighton-Linslade Town Council funded the plan via public funding through taxes. They hired Planning For Real in 2011 to facilitate the public consultation on the plans for the parks, and due to the expertise of the PFR employees, the process on what methods to use in the consultation and organising of the events was done by PFR themselves. The council assisted in carrying out the plans which were formulated by PFR, but their involvement was mainly on a facilitatory basis to support PFR in their chosen methods.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
This was the first occurrence of PFR in decision-making in Leighton Linslade and therefore organisers of this initiative, while ensuring it was open to all members of the Leighton Linslade community, were aware that people and groups more directly involved with the usage of the parks spaces ought to certainly be included in the deliberative process. Events were therefore held for both open public discussion but also specific interest groups such as Youth Clubs. This is noted in the official report of the case by PFR (2020) , stating the consultation stages ‘included an event for interest groups who use the facilities in both of the parks’. The council made the local groups aware of these consultation events on behalf of PFR, publicising them on the council websites and local papers. Leafletting was also done for some of the events in the consultation. Stalls were also set up in local events such as Christmas lights and local fairs. The relatively small population (in comparison to many other towns) of Leighton Linslade at the time being only 40,000, it is reasonably likely that a significant proportion if not all of attendees at these events would have some vested interest in the parks in question.
Methods and Tools Used
The method used in this case was the Planning for Real modelling system, which is a type of community driven development, undertaken by PFR. Usually this would consist of a scaled down model of the area in question being created and then participants would add suggestions to apply to certain areas using ‘suggestion cards’. The use of a model or visual representation of the area in question benefits residents as it can give insights into physical barriers to certain concepts and provide a figuratively different view to normal. The suggestion cards are also anonymous, meaning a non-confrontational experience for participants is easily possible. Alongside this, some additional tools were used such as questionnaires for the interest groups to ensure more detailed data collection. These methods are commonly used together as additional tools by PFR. The next section outlines the alterations on the specificities of the methodology for this specific case. The Planning for Real methodology has been used for over 5 decades, in which time it has been cited to ‘bridge the language gap’ by displaying high levels of inclusivity for minority areas and has been involved in numerous award-winning projects.
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
The consultation by PFR lasted several months and spanned over numerous local events. The first of these were two meetings with interest groups and town councillors to explore key goals and ensure that funding the improvements which would be suggested via the consultation would be viable for the council. Using the Planning for Real methodology, seven events were then held between December 2011 and March 2012; these events were open to varying groups, some public and some specific such as a Parents and Carers group or Youth club members. The PFR system differed slightly to the usual format of a Planning for Real exercise. Details given in an exclusive overview provided for this case study (Wilkinson, 2021) outline several changes in specifics. Firstly, a 3D model of the area in question was not used but instead an aerial image was taken from above to show how the layout would look and provide visual aid due to the large scale of the area. Participation was put in practice by those who attended the interest group meetings, engaged by utilizing suggestion cards to add to the aerial image, and discussed with other members and organisers what their suggestions could mean for the parks. Thought and consideration of multiple opinions occurred in every consultation event. The standard set of suggestion cards were not used, but those more focused to open space consultation were utilised instead in order to better fit the project at hand. There was no voting process or need for a consensus in these events due to the lack of a legal mandate. However, after the events, the collating of suggestion cards and verbal feedback from participants was done by PFR who analysed the data and reported it to the council. The function of the PFR modelling was achieved as the main priority groups were able to put forward their concerns and the council was able to respond to them with their queries being answered.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
While only a recommendation was able to be given and no mandate was made by the participants, a clear priority list was formed based on the most relevant issues, and the administration and senior operations manager at the council stated that participants had said they ‘really felt they were contributing to the consultation’ which indicates they achieved the primary goal of the exercise. It is worth noting that the exercise itself was only designed to act as a consultation of the residents, rather than give them the ability to form a direct mandate.
The initiative had an effect on many realms of the local area in that it offered clear insight into what would be required in order to maintain the fulfilment of the park user’s needs in the coming years. It was reported by PFR (Wilkinson, 2021) that the consultation resulted in not just plans for the park itself and its garden, but also reflected a need to inquire into the state of road access, sports facilities and car parking. These concerns may not have been made apparent were it not for the PFR consultation exercises. As a direct result of the focussd questioning, sports groups and their ambitions were highlighted and PFR recommended that a sports strategy for the town ought to be put together.
It is further testament to the effects of the consultation that the residents became more inclined to use the parks facilities not just for their current purpose, but for new ideas too. Forward thinking ideas such as a small music festival were suggested, indicating the residents were keen to get more involved in the organisation of more events in the parks in the future. This social cohesion and keen involvement in new areas of possibilities in the park is highly important as it differs from the much more common inquiries about the sports facilities and environment of the park, indicating that the consultation perhaps sparked new interest from local residents.
The strong effect of the consultation was also seen in its inclusion into the development of the town’s ‘Big Plan II’ which was used up to 2016 as the parish’s main plan of action and priorities for five years. Of the aspects of the ‘Big Plan II’ which were not materialised in that timeframe, they were submitted to be completed in the next 5 year plan. This large time scale implies a commitment to the ideas and concerns brought up in the consultation, indicating a strong voice for the public was given.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
Analysing using the democratic goods prescribed by Graham Smith (2009) would indicate this case of community driven development was successful in its aims to promote the benefits of democracy to those involved. Firstly, considering its promotion of inclusion, the PFR consultations allowed for open involvement from all relevant demographics. The invitational meetings with interest groups and relevant societies allowed for targeted inclusion in the most affected groups, while opening stalls and consultations in public events such as Christmas fairs made the participation easy for almost all people to access. The lack of online options and the necessity for physical involvement created by the Planning for Real methodology meant ensuring access for residents with mobility issues was not very high, however these demographics are less likely to use the facilities in question. In terms of popular control, the case offers arguments to suggest both positives and negatives. There was no formal mandate carried out by the participants in this methodology, and as such, the popular control level must be considered low, as a consultation with the people may still be ignored by the decision makers (in this case the council). However, one must consider a point raised by Smith (2009) which poses the concept that the ‘empowering’ of the citizens ought to be considered and that while the ability to ‘affect a change’ in larger scale politics is not found through this method, awareness of participation and control in and over local decision-making was certainly increased by the Planning For Real exercise. Considered judgement is highly important to ensure in CDD as outlined by Mancur Olson (1965) who claimed groups of individuals with a shared interest will often not act on behalf of that interest even if they are working at a common goal as in CDD’s. It is therefore very positive that considered judgement was reasonably high for this case due to the fact that all participants were local residents, and that the specific interest groups relevant to the park also had their own consultation meetings. This means that the people involved had extensive prior knowledge and interest in the topic at hand, invoking better conversation and quality of consultation to go alongside the assistance from the Planning For Real consultants. Transparency of the process is another positive in this CDD, especially as transparency is usually a key element in localised and decentralised actions such as CDD’s (Mansuri, 2013). Both Planning For Real and the local town council offered up their conclusions and recommendations themselves or within the towns ‘Big Plan II’ so all residents could see exactly what the outcome of the consultancy had been. That said, the cost was not disclosed and therefore unable to be analysed in terms of efficacy and transferability. While the modelling system Planning For Real use is highly transferable itself and ‘people of all abilities and backgrounds find [it] easy and enjoyable to engage in’, if it were to be highly expensive then less well-funded councils and local authorities would not be able to carry it out. It is worth noting that the average wage in Leighton Linslade is over £4,000 lower than the UK average and therefore this may indicate that lower income areas may still be able to afford the PFR service. In addition to this, the event held for town councillors specifically ensured that funding for the recommendations given at the end of the consultation would be possible, and this type of discussion can be held with any funding body to assess what aims are realistic.
Overall, the main takeaways from the case are that the CDD system of Planning For Real is highly applicable and useful to situations concerning localised and decentralised matters, such as sports clubs and facilities used by the residents of Leighton Linslade. However, it is difficult to be scaled up to a larger size as the area in question must be small enough for all interested people to have a say in its development in order to maintain its high levels of inclusivity, considered judgement, and transparency. The Leighton Linslade case of PFR can be considered a success and the consultancy period offered a huge array of options to the local council on the priorities of the residents, many of whom gave positive feedback indicating the democratic goals of the exercise undertaken had been achieved.
 Leighton Linslade Town Council. 2020. Planning report. Available at: https://democracy.leightonlinslade-tc.gov.uk/documents/s6423/Quality%20Gold%20Appendix%20B.pdf
 Planning For Real. 2012. Parks Masterplanning in Leighton Linslade. http://www.planningforreal.org.uk/projects/parks-masterplanning-in-leighton-linslade/
 1000 Largest Cities and Towns in the UK by Population. The Geographist. https://www.thegeographist.com/uk-cities-population-1000/
 Urban Upgrading. 2001. Interactive Community Planning: Planning for real. http://web.mit.edu/urbanupgrading/upgrading/issues-tools/tools/Planning-for-Real.html
 Wilkinson M. 2021. Leighton Linslade Parks Masterplanning overview report for Student. Available at: https://s3.amazonaws.com/participedia.prod/94bda9b9-1220-4e1f-8585-1c4d12eff586
 Leighton Linslade Town Council. 2020. Planning report. Available at: https://democracy.leightonlinslade-tc.gov.uk/documents/s6423/Quality%20Gold%20Appendix%20B.pdf
 Smith, G. (2009) Democratic Innovations: Designing Institutions for Citizen Participation, Theories of Institutional Design, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.
 Smith, G. (2009) Democratic Innovations: Designing Institutions for Citizen Participation. Chapter 2. Page 31-32. Theories of Institutional Design, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.
 Olson. M. 1965. The Logic of Collective Action: Public Goods and the Theory of Groups. Harvard. P 5-52. https://www.sfu.ca/~poitras/collective-action.PDF
 Mansuri. G, Rao. V. 2013. Localising Development: Does Participation Work? Washington D.C, The World Bank. Ch 1. https://www.worldbank.org/en/research/publication/localizing-development-does-participation-work
 Community Planning.net. 2008. Planning for real. Available at: http://www.communityplanning.net/methods/planning_for_real.php
 "Average Salary in Leighton Buzzard, England: Bedfordshire." Payscale. https://www.payscale.com/research/UK/Location=Leighton-Buzzard-England%3A-Bedfordshire/Salary
Leighton Linslade Town Council. 2020. Planning report. Available at: https://democracy.leightonlinslade-tc.gov.uk/documents/s6423/Quality%20Gold%20Appendix%20B.pdf. Accessed 18/03/21
Planning For Real. 2012. Parks Masterplanning in Leighton Linslade. http://www.planningforreal.org.uk/projects/parks-masterplanning-in-leighton-linslade/. Accessed 18/03/21
Urban Upgrading. 2001. Interactive community planning: Planning for real. Available at: http://web.mit.edu/urbanupgrading/upgrading/issues-tools/tools/Planning-for-Real.html. Accessed: 19/03/21
Wilkinson M. 2021. Leighton Linslade Parks Masterplanning overview report for Student. Available at: https://s3.amazonaws.com/participedia.prod/94bda9b9-1220-4e1f-8585-1c4d12eff586. Accessed: 20/04/21
Smith, G. (2009) Democratic Innovations: Designing Institutions for Citizen Participation, Theories of Institutional Design, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.
Smith, G. (2009) Democratic Innovations: Designing Institutions for Citizen Participation. Chapter 2. Page 31-32. Theories of Institutional Design, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.
Olson. M. 1965. The Logic of Collective Action: Public Goods and the Theory of Groups. Harvard. P 5-52.
Mansuri. G, Rao. V. 2013. Localising development: does participation work? Washington D.C, The world bank. Ch 1.
Community Planning.net. 2008. Planning for real. Available at: http://www.communityplanning.net/methods/planning_for_real.php. Accessed: 22/03/21