The ‘rural voice’ – Volunteers helping their community to speak up

The ‘rural voice’ – Volunteers helping their community to speak up
05 June 2017 by Chris Cowcher,

Across England there are residents giving up their spare time on a weekly basis, in order to make their community a better place to live. Throughout Volunteers’ Week it is very easy to find the many fantastic examples of those running community buildings, community businesses and community care services but today ACRE wants to focus on those who are providing a ‘voice’ for local residents – those which are carrying out the lesser championed and celebrated local consultations.

Community-led plans have been in existence for many years, with many rural communities having written ‘Parish Plans’ or ‘Village Design Statements’ with the aim of having a say on the future makeup and design of where they live. In 2011 the Government introduced the Localism Act which aimed to bolster these kind of activities, and provide greater powers and prominence to a community’s voice when it comes to the built environment in locally designated areas. As well as introducing a number of Community Rights; empowering residents to safeguard and sustain services and buildings of importance, the Government also introduced Neighbourhood Development Plans. These new documents offered a formal mechanism for communities to express their views on local development (housing, infrastructure, open spaces, community buildings etc) and write a plan which would formalise their views.

Neighbourhood Development Plans (NDP) are documents which combine community need, community aspirations, planning expertise and a referendum to form a plan which (when adopted) becomes a statutory document (which local authorities and developments must use) for future development in the designated NDP area. It is important to note that these documents are not ‘blockers’ for development, rather that they give residents a voice in proposals which will have an effect on their area. They are robustly examined, not just by residents in the NDP area but also by professionals. They are scrutinised with amendments being made before residents are able to give the document credence and a mandate, through voting for it at a local referendum.

We’re not here to look at the details of neighbourhood planning however – it’s the people who are involved that we want to celebrate today. At the heart of these local projects, is a team of volunteers who are meeting-up regularly (usually of an evening) and carrying out work on behalf of their community. They are continually looking at ways of consulting, engaging and involving locals. They are liaising with local authorities and other strategic partners including planning consultants, to ensure that their document is relevant and compliant. They are taking constructive criticism in order to produce the best document (or plan) for there area. These often unsung heroes are working hard to shape the future of their community and for that we say WELL DONE AND THANK YOU!

Looking for support? ACRE Network members across England are working with community-led planning and neighbourhood planning groups, get in touch and see how they could help you progress or start such a project in your area.