Last week I took an evening train to London, and learnt a little on ‘How Digital Tools can transform Neighbourhood Planning’ at the Urban Centre of Innovation. It was hosted and organised by Neighbourhood Planners.London and Local Trust. Neighbourhood Planners.London, are an organisation formed to support neighbourhood plans in the London area (believe it or not). They support community forums, and planning authorities from the point of starting out to referendum. They came together after noticing a demand from neighbourhood planners for somewhere to network and learn from each other. Anyone with an interest in neighbourhood planning in the capital should use their site for recourses, including a planning map, ‘useful things for getting started’ and successful plans for inspiration.

David King from Local Trust introduced the structure of the session, and led mini workshop groups, including the one I popped into first on community engagement. If you haven’t heard of Local Trust yet, check out how they empower communities; as an investment of the Big Lottery Fund, they support 150 places to make a difference on a local level. Again, their site is a wealth of recourses, as well as news and upcoming events to get involved with. Local Trust will support groups and individuals to develop skills and build on opportunities within communities.

Neighbourhood Planning (introduced by Tony Burton) is a way of giving communities direct power to develop their local visions. Clearly, they couldn’t build a ruddy great big theme park on greenbelt land, but it’s a chance for citizens to make realistic changes based on neighbourhood priorities. A community forum initially get together with an idea, ask the other citizens what they want in the area, and then develop those ideas with community engagement, building the evidence base, and putting the plan into consultation. Once much of the community have agreed, the neighbourhood plan gains the same legal status as a local plan, and can go forward to neighbourhood funding, post referendum.

I did a little introduction to how Delib’s Dialogue could be used successfully in a NP, from the very formative stage of collecting ideas from the community to allocating budget towards the end of the process, while building a conversation. A few other tools were pitched including Placecheck, a ‘way of finding out what a place and its people can tell us’ to be used at the earlier stages of neighbourhood planning, while assessing the area. Know Your Neighbourhood is another online tool to use in the earlier stages of planning, an ‘insight analyst, cartographer and statistician rolled in to one’. Local Trust and Neighbourhood Planners.London are great places to start if you’re keen on considering starting a NP forum in your area, also My Community is a great place to look for funding options, and how to get started!