Place plans – how good is my place?


Place plans – how good is my place?

Increasingly it is recognised across that the creation of our places where people live, work, play, and learn, needs to involve the people who are actually living, working, playing, or learning there. 

Sounds simple but how often does this actually happen?  And we aren’t just talking here about decisions being taken behind closed doors and then ‘consulted’ on presenting a fait accompli.

The planning system has a role to play in the creation of places and it too is starting to recognise the value of community planning approaches.  In Wales, in 2015, Welsh Government introduced Place Plans: prepared by the community for the community and based on local knowledge and priorities.

Yet Urban Habitats has identified that since their introduction in 2015 only one plan has been formally adopted as Supplementary Planning Guidance (SPG) in Wales.  So what is a Place Plan and why might more communities want to consider making one?

What is a place plan?

  • Values & principles: we believe a Place Plan should reflect certain values from the start, being:
    • For everyone
    • Creating equity / reducing inequalities
    • Promoting sustainable development and wellbeing
    • Democratic
    • Transparent
    • Robust
    • Ethical
    • Participatory
  • Place Plans were introduced by Welsh Government through the Positive Planning Implementation Plan, 2015.
  • There is not new legislation this but rather Place Plans rely on existing powers from the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004.
  • Can be adopted as Supplementary Planning Guidance (SPG) to provide additional local detail to back up the Local Development Plan (LDP) that local authorities prepare.
  • Normally coordinated through a Community Council, often by a group of enthusiastic and committed people with an interest in making their place better who take a lead.

In practical terms it:

  • Can set out local planning guidance as SPG (this bit is optional) .
  • Link to the larger scale LDP.
  • Links to wider Community Plans and/or Action Plans.
  • Is written by the community for the community based on local knowledge, needs, and priorities.

The terms Community Plan / Place Plan / Community Action Plan / Whole Place Plan are used somewhat interchangeably.  These are specific separate items, however sometimes aspects of them are combined into a single document and experience shows that this varies from place to place.

Urban Habitats has undertaken a review of all 22 Local Authorities and 3  National Park Authorities in Wales and identified that since their introduction only one Place Plan (for Crickhowell, Powys) is listed as being adopted as Supplementary Planning Guidance although others are known to be in development, for example Newtown and Llanllwchairan.

Place Plans are of course only one way to influence planning and wider community planning.  For example:

  • LDPs: are consulted on during preparation and as they take years to adopt it is never too long before the next review is due.
  • Development Briefs: are a tool Planning Authorities can use to set detailed parameters for strategic sites, or sites with specific issues that require special consideration.

Where can I find out more?

There are several excellent and free to access resources available to communities to use:

  • Planning Aid Wales: through the Place Plans website provide specific guidance and advice.
  • Shape My Town: a project and website supported by the Design Commission for Wales, Welsh Government, and design practice Coombs Jones provides guidance and advice on the wider topic of community-led planning. Particularly take a look at their ‘Townloads’!
  • Local Authority Guidance: both Conwy Council and Brecon Beacons National Park have produced guidance for their areas.  Check whether your council has produced similar guidance – if not perhaps they could!
Farmers market

What to do next?

What do you want to achieve?  Think about what you want to achieve.  This will help determine whether a Place Plan is the right tool to help you do this.  Remember a Place Plan is a means to an end not an end in its own right.

What is your vision? Again, what do you want your place to be like in the long term?  Think 10, 15, 20 years.  If you can figure out what your highest ambition for your place is in that timescale again you can start to plan how to get there.

Is a Place Plan right for us? Planning Aid Wales provide worksheets (available here) to help.

Key Stages and Tasks: if you want to prepare a Place Plan then a list of Key Stages and Tasks that need to be undertaken are available. (See page 6 of Brecon’s Guidance PDF).

Examples of Place Plans: we have gathered together a range of examples below including Community Plans and Action Plans as well as Place Plans:

Crickhowell Community Plan: adopted as Supplementary Planning Guidance by Brecon Beacon National Park Authority.

Newtown Community Action Plan: an action plan that has preceded preparation of a Place Plan.

Newtown and Llanllwchairan Place Plan (consultation draft not available online): the first place plan in Powys, developed after the Action Plan and consulted on during 2019.  Usefully highlights differences from the Action Plan: “The Place Plan is different because:

a) it has a particular focus on land use and is intended to be adopted by Powys County Council as part of its Local Development Plan

b) it will highlight issues and solutions that cannot solely be addressed by the Town Council and will require partnership working to deliver.”

Severnside Whole Place Community Plan: across a number of community council areas.

Shropshire Council: whilst not falling under the Welsh legislation, has supported production of Place Plans across 18 places.

What can Urban Habitats do?

Firstly, to succeed, there is a very great benefit to engaging as much as possible with the community and getting people to buy in to the plan.  Think beyond the ‘usual suspects’ and consider all age groups.

Secondy, ask what support your local authority can provide which may not just be monetary, for example: officer time to support the plan preparation; to help identify the most relevant LDP policies to link with; access to digital map bases which are copyrighted expensive to acquire otherwise.

Urban Habitats has experience of all the aspects required to create a plan. So if you do need help, we can either support or lead depending on your needs, for example:

  • Population demographic & health profile
  • Local area physical profile
  • Community asset mapping
  • Community engagement
  • Surveys
  • Analysis and synthesis of data gathered
  • Engagement with local planning authority
  • Engagement with other public services
  • Place Plan document coordination including graphics
  • Putting the Place Plan into action
  • Monitoring & evaluation

Depending on expertise and quantity of input required we deliver these services in house or work closely with a network of other experienced practitioners and researchers.

Bicycles and people in city family event
Mark Drane