Daya Feldwick our community network officer explains our exciting new planning support and mentoring project.
This project has been made possible by the People’s Postcode Trust and Players of the People’s Postcode Lottery.
At PD we are frequently contacted by people who are beginning a long and quite often rather painful journey of navigating the Scottish planning system. People are often quite desperate for help; the clock is ticking on an application and they are having to get up to speed on everything from planning portals to planning jargon (eg material considerations) as well as getting to grips with details of applications and other parts of the process.
Many people struggle and it can be quite an isolating and anxiety provoking experience.
Others might be slightly further down their planning journey and may be starting to delve into local development plan consultations, trying to enable their communities to influence what might happen in the future.
But such is the planning system that nothing is ever as straight forward as it might seem and rapidly people, even those who have some knowledge of planning, find they could do with some support and encouragement.
This was the case when we first met Walter Inglis from Grangemouth, who was facing the daunting task of taking part in a public local inquiry (PLI) following an application for a biomass plant in the area. He was “apprehensive” about taking part, but felt duty bound to represent the views of his community. As time went on Walter began to feel more and more anxious and really wanted some support. After trying several routes, including looking for professional help, he eventually came into contact with us. We put Walter in touch with a community in Limekilns who we knew had just taken part in a PLI themselves and could give him the benefit of their recent experience. They went to the remarkable trouble of organising a whole day event for the Grangemouth group.
Walter says “For the first time in the process we have someone to talk to who has as they say “walked the walk”. We set up a full day seminar attended by Sue Hamilton and her colleague from Charlestown, Limekilns, and Pattiesmuir CC. This was without doubt the most informative and useful part of our preparations”.
You can read more about Walter’s story here.
(Incidentally after being involved in the workshop with Grangemouth, Sue went on to become a trustee of Planning Democracy!)
Another more recent example is with the residents of a small Inverclyde village who contacted us. The members of the residents’ association are a dedicated bunch of people who care greatly about their community and their local environment. They were trying their best to protect precious green spaces in the village, but were literally bombarded with one planning application after another. None of the applications were allocated for development in the Local Development Plan and a lot wasn’t making sense to the group, so they came to us for some advice.
We put a call out to our network to get them some help. Two of our network members, who have been through similar planning experiences themselves, responded. They had the capacity to support them through the process, not only with very useful specific advice but they also understood the stress and the urgency of the situation. They went on to give the group some crucial help. This resulted in a win for the residents, when one site was removed from their local development plan as a result of their arguments that challenged the housing numbers.
However, their journey is by no means over, many of you appreciate how you can never rest on your laurels when it comes to planning. Indeed, it was only the following day that a company started exploratory drilling in the very fields that the group had thought they had protected by having the sites removed from the Local Development Plan.
Thankfully there is a great feeling of solidarity among our members and the group have received some amazing assistance, particularly from the two individuals already mentioned but also much moral support and encouragement from the wider network.
In return the group have become part of our network and have helped with our campaigning, contacting and meeting their MSPs and sharing their planning experiences at an event we held in Parliament with face to face meetings with a range of MSPs. There, they were also able to meet other individuals and groups who were involved in a variety of planning issues from across Scotland.
Here is what they said about their experience with our network.
‘Planning Democracy are a truly fantastic organisation and group of people. Through their network they were able to help us with the complexities of the Scottish Planning System, that a lot of residents and community groups such as us, find hard getting your head around. Importantly too, Planning Democracy are campaigning for change to the current Scottish Planning System which our Residents Association with our experiences, fully support.
Thank you Planning Democracy, and everyone connected with you. Keep up the amazing work!!!
It wasn’t only the group who benefited from the help received, the people helping them reported back that they enjoyed helping and it was relatively easy for them as they were able to use the knowledge gained on their own planning journey.
“It was a great pleasure to have the opportunity to work with the residents association. I was able to use some of the understanding of how Housing Need and Demand Assessments work (or are supposed to) that I had acquired in trying to defend green belt in our locality to point them in a direction they found useful.
They have been very appreciative and I’m glad to have been able to share my knowledge.”
Not everyone feels they have detailed specific knowledge to share, but anyone who has responded to an application, taken part in a consultation or has some experience of planning will have something to offer.
Sometimes people just need a listening ear and an opportunity to let off steam to someone who understands and has been through the same experience. Empathy and solidarity goes a long way and shouldn’t be underestimated. This, combined with the right information, can make a huge difference to someone’s experience of engaging in the current planning system.
As you can see from our examples, we have been connecting people together for a while, and we have really seen the benefits, which is why we wanted to develop the idea. This year we have been offered funding from the People’s Postcode Trust to run a fully fledged peer mentoring project, which we hope will result in a lot more people getting the support and assistance so vitally needed to enable and empower people to protect their local environments.
We also really want to support people to become more proactive and to take the initiative on how their environment and communities are shaped. But we recognise that often people’s journey in planning most often starts when they have to react to a development proposal or local authority plan. However we welcome communities who have developed their own plans or taken ownership of community land or assets so that others, less far down the planning journey can learn from your experiences.
Could you be a planning mentor?
As part of this development work we will be offering training and support to people from our network and beyond to become planning mentors.
The training will give mentors skills to help others who are just starting on a planning journey or who need some moral support and advice. The idea is that the mentors will engage and help other communities and individuals in a variety of ways, especially those living in areas where people are less well resourced in terms of planning expertise.
The free training will include lunch and travel expenses will be paid. We aim for it to prepare and motivate planning mentors, making them feel confident and ready for the challenges of the role.
Participants will receive training packs and will become part of a mentor group who can share ideas, strategies and tips, supported by online sessions and resources. There will be opportunities to have mentor group discussions for any questions or issues following the training.
After that mentors will be asked to help people who are needing support on issues that match their own experiences. Mentors might speak to someone on the phone or contact them by email. We can also arrange face to face meetings if people live in the same area. For those who feel confident enough, we might organise workshops or even public meetings with community groups. There will be a range of ways that mentors can help, each mentor will prefer different options. This will be discussed during the training and subsequent support sessions.
If you are interested in becoming a planning mentor, please see here for further details. Get your application form here or contact us with any questions here. We are also happy to consider applications from groups who feel they have the capacity to support others in planning matters.
Equally welcome are any inquiries from anyone who believe they could benefit from the help of a planning mentor.
Our email address is: email@example.com
We will be telling you more about the project at our networking conference on 11th May in Glasgow where you will have an opportunity learn more and get involved.