Building inclusion through the
Planning Aid programme
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Planning Aid is a voluntary movement supported by the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) that aims to empower local communities to effectively engage with the planning process and influence decisions affecting their areas. Planning Aid provides free and independent professional planning advice to groups and individuals who do not have the means to employ professional planning experts. The service carries out a range of outreach, education and community capacity-building projects and delivers initiatives involving people in the formulation of planning policy and in schemes to improve their areas. Strong partnerships with other bodies at national, regional and local levels have been developed to assert this agenda. This includes working with national planning and regeneration bodies, regional assemblies, local authorities, schools and regional development agencies.
The range of skills and the expertise of Planning Aid staff and volunteers enable it to deliver a high-quality service for which there is a clear public demand. A regional structure consisting of 13 offices throughout England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland makes the service responsive to the needs of local communities, helping it to deliver sustainable communities and contribute to local democracy.
Planning Aid for London’s contributions between 2004 and 2005 include helping 62 community organizations to deepen their involvement in the redevelopment of a large area of industrial and railway wasteland in central London (King’s Cross). Planning Aid workers led a series of workshops and consultations with these groups to expand their understanding of the local authority (Camden Borough) and developers’ documents outlining proposals for change in the area. Documents on the redevelopment plans posed significant difficulties for community groups because of their technical complexity and vagueness in terms of how mixed-use areas would be utilized. An additional challenge for Planning Aid’s efforts was the extremely diverse composition of this part of London in terms of ethnicity, ability and above average levels of homelessness and drug abuse.
After initial meetings with the King’s Cross Forum and time analyzing the 12 planning documents and approximately 30 supporting documents, Planning Aid provided the 62 groups involved in the King’s Cross Forum with more simply-worded summaries of official documents. This led to subsequent steps where legalities were discussed, strategies were analyzed and specific issues for a response were identified and prioritized. The Forum’s response influenced a revised proposal from the developer. Planning Aid worked with community groups to assess this second proposal and ‘grade’ it in terms of how it addressed earlier points raised by the community.Significant in terms of Planning Aid for London’s short- and long-term contributions to the King’s Cross redevelopment was the way in which its workers mediated between the community forum and the local council, which held ultimate control over development decisions. The Planning Aid volunteers had to gain the trust of many groups with disparate interests, ensure that no groups dominated or were pushed aside, and deal with intense emotions. Planning Aid sought specialist help when needed and distributed information to as wide a range of people as possible by using local translators. Planning Aid for London helped the Forum to learn more about the development, particularly the issues of most concern to them.
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