Hartlepool Rural Neighbourhood Plan: a case study about mapping and preparing for community engagement
Hartlepool is a town on the North Sea coast of North East England. It has a population of around 92,000 people. Historically a part of County Durham and later Cleveland, the town is now a unitary authority: the Borough of Hartlepool. Originally two towns, the ancient town of Old Hartlepool (known locally as the Headland, with strong links to fishing) and the more recent West Hartlepool, Hartlepool has a long, proud history. The two towns amalgamated in 1967 to form what is now the single entity known as Hartlepool.
Why a neighbourhood plan?
Hartlepool today can be quite neatly halved into an urban and rural setting: the east is more urban and the west more rural in appearance and character. The Hartlepool Rural neighbourhood plan area covers just about all of the rural land in the west of the borough and covers five main parishes and two smaller parishes with a population of around 4,200. The map on the group's website shows this clearly.
The Hartlepool Rural Planning Group was formed from representatives of the parish councils that cover the rural areas of Hartlepool Borough (Dalton Piercy, Elwick, Greatham, Hart and the Parish Meeting of Newton Bewley). Together they have a strong, shared desire to improve and enhance an area which is already a great place to live, work and bring up a family but which will need to develop over the next fifteen years in order to secure a sustainable future.
Initial community engagement: survey, analysis and community workshop
The neighbourhood plan group engaged with the local community in the form of an initial, broad ranging survey. They then held a community workshop for about 30 people, facilitated by Planning Aid England staff and volunteers. The aim of the workshop was to discuss and analyse the results of the survey and examine what the findings could mean for the area.
The workshops took the form of facilitated, small group discussions, using post its and flip charts to record points, which were written up afterwards. The structure was broadly:
- Discussing the raw data
- Putting it into useable categories (housing, local economy etc)
- Identifying gaps (e.g. if survey indicated lack of housing provision in a particular area, what would be the next steps)
- Starting to plan the next stage of activity
- Identifying who they needed to link to next (e.g. LPA, landowner).
It was immediately clear from this initial survey and consultation work that people valued living in smaller communities with a rural environment and that there is a shared ambition to sustain those communities. Residents of the rural area were keen to see the villages continuing as sustainable communities with a reversal in the decline in facilities and to halt their decline to dormitory suburbs. This is clearly the case in villages where populations are becoming increasingly elderly but where the residents wish to maintain such local facilities as schools, shops, pubs and churches. Increasingly, communities need to develop and grow in order to sustain themselves in the future. For example, a village school will not survive unless there is a continuing source of pupils.
Using the survey and workshops to start shaping the plan
Following on from the initial survey and engagement work, the group were able to develop three key areas critical to the next stage of their plan preparation. These are the areas they then wanted to develop further through more community engagement:
- Vision: an over-arching statement or series of statements describing the area in 15-20 years time. To cover what the area will look like, what broad facilities could be provided and what the area will be like to live, work and play in.
- Aims: the activities that the plan will promote in the area. The positive things the plan would like to see happen in order to deliver the Vision.
- Objectives: the objectives will be more specific. They will set out what the plan wants to achieve to make the Vision and Aims a reality.
Mapping the next stages of community engagement (Places, Faces and Spaces)
The group were keen to make sure as many people as possible were able to engage in the further development of their Vision, Aims and Objectives. The group held a meeting with Planning Aid England and decided to map out their next stages of engagement and discuss quick wins, hard to reach groups (and how to engage them). They also wanted to know whether they should go to the community or bring the community to them! The approach developed through this meeting is called Places, Faces and Spaces.
Part of the neighbourhood planning process is about going out to places where you know the community will be. So, using a large map of the neighbourhood area provided by Hartlepool Borough Council, the group began to identify key places where they knew different types of communities would congregate or where there were facilities they would use. For example, these could be spaces where communities live, work, play, go to school, study, relax, exercise, shop etc. They make up the places in the neighbourhood plan which the group would then aim to use as engagement hubs.
The group then drew boundaries around the places to see where they were in the neighbourhood. The places marked up included:
- Industrial Estates
- Playing Fields
- Community Centres
- Village Greens
- Doctors surgeries
- Walking Routes, bus stops, taxi ranks
- Leisure facilities
Once the group had identified these key places in the neighbourhood, they checked and recorded what engagement had been done so far in these places (if any), and then started to plan what could be done in the future.
The second stage was to list all the groups and communities who might use the places identified in the neighbourhood area. These are the faces. For example, the community centre is likely to be used by a long list of different groups whose relationship with the area will vary but may be interested in its future development. A typical list might include pensioners groups, parents of young children, teenagers, sports and recreation clubs. Remember that people who use the centre may live, work or do business in the area.
The third stage was to identify the places and faces that would be hard to reach or that the group felt could be a struggle to engage with. These would form the spaces in the plan as they may need further attention and/or specific activities targeted at them. For example, in Hartlepool the group identified outlying farms and schools (young people) as their “spaces” where they thought engagement may be more difficult.
How can this approach help?
Sometimes community engagement is difficult because it is carried out in the wrong place, or at the wrong time, or uses the wrong method and fails to engage the people it wants to. Being able to work out where the communities in the neighbourhood were, and identify the places they use and feel attached to, allowed the group to start planning engagement activities aimed at the specific place and the person using that place.
- Broad surveys and workshops can be a great starting point but groups should think about how they can engage with a wide range of members of the community, rather than just those who will fill in and survey or attend a workshop.
- Having a good understanding of your neighbourhood area, its features and how they are used by different communities will help you target activities at communities you think you might not reach otherwise.
- Don’t forget to record what you’re doing. In Hartlepool, they mapped the engagement activity as they did it, creating a visual map showing the spread of engagement in the neighbourhood area.
- Remember you’ll be producing a consultation statement for your plan! The visual map can then be typed up into a report that could become part of your consultation statement showing how, where and when you worked with the community on the development of your neighbourhood plan.
- It’s important to engage with your local council – don’t just think about the planning department, although they are obviously very important – for example, in Hartlepool’s case they engaged with the regeneration team as well as planning.
Many thanks to the Hartlepool Rural Neighbourhood Plan Steering Group for their help with this case study. These case studies are produced by Planning Aid England as part of the Supporting Communities in Neighbourhood Planning programme, funded by the Department for Communities and Local Government and delivered by a consortium led by Locality.
Photo credits© All photos are copyright Hartlepool Rural Neighbourhood Plan Steering Group