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What is neighbourhood planning without volunteers?

Professor Gavin Parker, University of Reading

Neighbourhood planning is nearing its tenth anniversary – the first Frontrunners were sent ahead in 2010 before the Localism Act was passed. A lot was expected and assumed about the willingness and ability of neighbourhoods to deliver this public policy. Since then much has been written and much experience generated. Clearly a lot of plans have been completed but a lot of other neighbourhood planning groups have found the process exhausting and have stopped or done something else. The point is that the process can be navigated successfully but there is a danger that only some can practically do it. Is the balance of inputs and outputs, of costs and benefits right?

Despite the above little focussed attention had been on the actual experience and motives of the volunteers who spend their time volunteering to prepare a plan. We recently published a paper deliberately positioned to highlight how volunteers sacrifice a great deal of their leisure time to work on plans and to set out research findings exploring how the volunteers reflected on their experiences. The data we collected from those neighbourhood planning volunteers indicates not that people resent the time per se but it is the lack of certainty of outcome, the mis-selling of the process and the uneven support experienced that add up to an unbalanced situation.

We argue, based on the balance of views conveyed to us, that neighbourhood planning in its manifestation thus far pushes the boundaries of what can be legitimately asked of volunteers and expected in terms of delivering policy public outcomes. Further research work on how to improve on this situation has been ongoing though – so watch this space.

The full academic paper referred to:

Entangling voluntarism, leisure time and political work: the governmentalities of neighbourhood planning in England by Gavin Parker, Mark Dobson, Tessa Lynna and Kat Salter in the journal Leisure Studies. It can be accessed (££) following this link or get in touch with Neighbourhood Planners.London.


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