‘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.
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.
Blog by Ellen Reaich, External Affairs Assistant