Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI)
- Dr Sue Brownill (Department of Planning), Principal Investigator, OISD:UPM
- Dr Juliet Carpenter (Department of Planning), Research Fellow, OISD: UPM
- total grant value: £42,410.04
- time duration: March 2004 - March 2006
The overall aim of the research was to evaluate the achievements of the National Planning Aid programme, and to assess on an on-going basis how far the programme was meeting its objectives. The specific aims of the evaluation were:
- To establish a programme baseline position, against which to measure and evaluate the impact of the Planning Aid programme
- To develop a methodology for gauging the impact of the Planning Aid service
- To implement an on-going evaluation of the service, applying this methodology
- To develop a framework for disseminating the findings of the on-going evaluation, to incorporate lessons learnt into service design and delivery.
In February 2003, the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM) announced funding of up to £3.8 million to support the expansion and development of the Planning Aid Service in England. Planning Aid aims to build the planning capacity of financially disadvantaged, diverse and socially excluded communities, through providing planning advice, running community planning events and raising capacity and awareness about the planning system among disadvantaged communities. The Oxford Brookes evaluation was commissioned to provide an on-going assessment of how far the Planning Aid Service was meeting its objectives, and to make recommendations on how service delivery could be improved on an on-going basis.
The themes addressed in the evaluation included the advice service (casework), community planning activities, volunteers, promotion and awareness raising, and process and partnership. In addition to these themes, one of the ten regions in England (Southern Region) was taken as a longitudinal case study, and monitored throughout the two-year evaluation period, to track progress towards meeting its regional objectives. The methods used for the evaluation included an assessment of quarterly monitoring returns, interviews with members of the National Planning Aid Unit, interviews with stakeholders, volunteers and key personnel in each regional service, and feedback sheets from casework clients and participants at community planning events. An evaluation "surgery" was also held at the Annual National Planning Aid Conference in November 2004.
The evaluation found that the Planning Aid programme provides a valuable service to disadvantaged individuals. However, the evaluation highlighted a key issue for Planning Aid: the difficulty of reaching the intended target audience. Findings suggest that Planning Aid is often contacted by people who already have some knowledge of the planning system, and who are often not those most disadvantaged in the community.
In terms of community planning, there are many innovative projects and events being carried out in different regions to engage diverse communities in planning. However, a number of difficulties were highlighted, in particular the sheer scale of the areas being covered by part-time staff, and the significant time and resource constraints that the service is under. This appears to have hampered service delivery.
The findings have a number of wider policy implications. The expansion of Planning Aid was linked to the shift towards spatial planning, including a greater focus on participation. These changes led to high levels of confusion in the community which increased demand for Planning Aid's services. However, the Planning Aid experience illustrates the difficulties involved in community engagement, and the time and resources necessary to achieve these wider objectives. This underlines the importance of Planning Aid's two approaches: proactive community and outreach work to promote participation, coupled with the more reactive telephone-based advice work. Planning Aid's work also highlights some weaknesses in Government policy, particularly in terms of the requirements of local planning authorities to promote participation beyond the 'tick box' level.
Methodologically, the evaluation followed a 'real-time' model, feeding in results quarterly rather than waiting until the end of the programme. This proved to be useful in providing formative results which could influence the development of the programme, but also had limitations, particularly when the client organisation is undergoing substantial change.
- Brownill S and Carpenter J (2007) Increasing Participation in Planning: Emergent Experiences of the Reformed Planning System in England, Planning Practice and Research, 22, 4, pp 619-634
- Brownill S and Carpenter J (2007) New improved participatory planning? The Planning Aid Experience, Town and Country Planning, 76, 1, pp26-29
- Carpenter J and Brownill S (2008) Approaches to democratic involvement: Widening community engagement in the English planning system, Planning Theory and Practice, 9, 2, pp 227 - 248
tel: +44 (0) 1865 483877