A spotlight on: the Woolley neighbourhood plan

‘Go back to your communities and prepare neighbourhood plans’ – this is the message many will have drawn from this year’s planning reforms and last year’s Localism Act. Certainly, there has been a recent flurry of activity that goes beyond the original frontrunners, as those of us who keep one eye on a neighbourhood planning Google alert will surely testify. There’s been a good deal to commend in many of these up and coming neighbourhood plans – whether it’s strong consultation and engagement, in the community or online, or a great sense of what is special to a community’s identity. That’s why we’d like to highlight some examples here on this blog, and explain exactly what we think they’re getting right. While not a frontrunner, the community of Woolley, near Bradford-on-Avon, Wiltshire were quick off the mark, and finished their neighbourhood plan in December 2011 with approval in January 2012.

The plan was written by the Friends of Woolley, a pre-existing community group. It includes a ‘vision of Woolley in 2026’, as well as detail on character and historic environment, wildlife and the natural environment, transport and access, climate change, community and employment. The plan maps existing features spatially, and identifies future challenges to the vision of Woolley.

The real strength of the plan lies in its clear grasp on what’s important to people in Woolley, what’s special about their community and what should be celebrated and enhanced. There are clear explanations of how the layout of houses contributes to a culture of ‘quiet and dark nights’ and a link with countryside and landscape. The presence of green spaces and orchards within Woolley itself is not just the source of character and an unusual aesthetic – it also provides a valuable network of wildlife corridors and a sense of connection between residents, their immediate environment and the food they produce locally. The annual orchards project has so far produced more than a thousand bottles of juice, and demonstrating the viability of local priority and endangered habitats.

Woolley residents enjoy a bumper local crop

Woolley residents enjoy a bumper local-crop

The result of such an understanding of community values is real consideration of them in the ‘vision of Woolley in 2026’. Their vision is of a place known for its produce, with enhanced national priority orchard habitats also acting as a safe haven for protected species, safe for children’s play and walkable, with pedestrian access to facilities.

The plan also gives practical suggestions about how to achieve this vision, for example by restoring and managing the local orchards, repairing stone walls and hedges, introducing traffic calming schemes and improving pedestrian access.

The specialness and importance of places on a national, local and community level is something the National Trust is familiar with. We look after so many interesting and significant places, and understand that their different characters require different approaches. Our own Going Local strategy encapsulates the idea that we must celebrate a distinct spirit of place at each, and nurture the links with the people that love them. This is the Woolley neighbourhood plan’s real strength – by clearly setting out what Woolley is, and wants to be, with reference to practical steps to maintain and improve its best qualities, its vision of the community in 2026 is far more likely to succeed.

Anything to add? Please feel free to comment and share your concerns below and you can join the conversation with us about planning on Twitter (@nationaltrust) using the #planning4ppl hashtag.

Blog by Ellen Reaich, External Affairs Assistant

#planning4ppl

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3 thoughts on “A spotlight on: the Woolley neighbourhood plan

  1. Really interested to read about Woolley’s NP. Can you tell us if it has been independently assessed and has Wiltshire CC held a referendum? The plan looks great and we love the spatial aspect to it – would you be prepared to tell us how you funded this and what involvement the planning authorities have had in its development?

    • Just to clarify, the Friends of Woolley have produced this plan – we’ve just highlighted their work on our National Trust Places blog. I’ll make some attempt to answer your questions, but the best place to look for answers is their website (friendsofwoolley.org.uk). Bradford on Avon Town Council have approved the plan. As far as I can tell, they are funded by subscriptions and sales from local produce. I hope this helps, but as I said, it’s worth a trip to their own website.

      Have you read our post on the Thame Neighbourhood Plan? They’ve demonstrated a variety of community engagement techniques – another really interesting example of neighbourhood planning in practice. http://ntplanning.wordpress.com/2012/08/22/a-spotlight-on-the-thame-town-plan/

  2. Thank you for your reply, I have had a look at theThame plan and it is very interesting to see the level of detail and planning expertise required – they have obviously used a planning consultant to support them with this piece of work. I am intrigued as to how small rural communities could go down this route -clustering of Parishes comes to mind but past experience tells us that this approach is not always successful. And of course there is always the elephant in the room – funding…. I am coming to the conclusion that unless a community is earmarked for development a NP is not going to be an appropriate tool, those marked for develoment however might be advised to accept the situation and make the best of it via a NP. Unfortunately many of our communities are interested in NPs as a way of preventing development.

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