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2.1 Develop a communication strategy

Communication and publicity is vital, from an early stage and throughout the process.  People are more likely to participate if they are kept informed.  In the case of developing a Neighbourhood Plan, where the support of the community at the referendum stage is crucial to its adoption, the need to keep information flowing takes on an even greater significance. 

Communication tasks may include awareness raising / background information about Neighbourhood Plans, promotion of events and the opportunities to get involved, feedback on information gathered, general updates on progress and circulation of documents for comment.  Different media will be suited to different communication tasks and may include talking to community groups and individuals, posters and leaflets, magazine articles and newsletters, website pages and social networking sites, email groups using your contact database, radio interviews and press releases.  Be sure to include these all important communication tasks in your time plan (2.2)

Local group to agree a communication strategy
Possible help needed:
advice on different media and barriers to engagement, examples of publicity and promotional materials

2.2 Create a time plan for the process

It will be necessary for the steering group to produce a programme of the tasks to be undertaken and insert these into a time plan.  You may need to read other parts of this guidance to fully understand each of the tasks.  Some months of the year may be better than others for particular tasks (e.g. outdoor consultations) which may affect your time plan.  Where visiting other organisations (e.g. schools, youth groups) to gather information, schedule in time to plan the session with teachers / leaders.   Build in at least two months for formulation of questionnaires, which always take longer than expected, and also allow plenty of time for processing information, particularly if being undertaken by volunteers. 

At the drafting proposals stage, allow plenty of time to set up meetings with decision-making organisations, and time for negotiation on specific policies and actions.  Remember that not all parish councils meet on a monthly basis and that the local authority will have pre-set meeting cycles for committee approval of decisions, which may affect timescales.  Bear in mind that it may be difficult to organise meetings and complete tasks during July, August and December as they are busy months socially.  It usually takes between 15 months and 2 years to produce a Community Led Plan.

Local group to agree a time plan
Possible help needed:
advice on creating time plans, examples of time plans for other community led plans

2.3 Determine local skills, expertise and training needs

The tasks and time plan (2.2) will enable the group to understand the skills needed during the process.  By allocating the tasks to the volunteers, the steering group will be able to establish where there are gaps in skills and expertise.

The steering group may decide to take advantage of training opportunities to increase skills, it may decide to second other volunteers (who have the relevant expertise) to the group or it may decide to ‘buy in’ professional support to help with certain tasks. 

Local group to carry out a skills audit and decide how to plug the gaps
Possible help needed:
contacts for professional support, training sessions

2.4 Prepare a budget

An understanding of the tasks to be undertaken will help in creating a budget.  The costs of some tasks will vary depending on how they are carried out so you will need to read up on other sections of this guidance to estimate the costs. For example the Sustainability Appraisal (3.1) has minimal costs if undertaken by volunteers with some training and support, but may cost a few thousand pounds if carried out by planning consultants.

Build some flexibility into your cost estimates to cover contingencies; you may prefer to add a percentage to costs to cover contingencies.  Costs may include hire of meeting halls, publicity materials, printing of questionnaires, data processing costs, publishing of findings. Consider the cost of training and professional support if needed (2.3).  The costs of the Validation Check, Independent Examination, Referendum and Adoption will be met by the local planning authority.

Local group to agree a budget
Possible help needed:
advice on budget preparation; examples from other community led plans

2.5 Secure funding

Work out a funding strategy to provide the money necessary to cover all your costs.  This may include parish council precept (in a parished area), fundraising events, sponsorship, sponsorship from local businesses, requests for funding from local authorities and other grant funding applications.   

Also consider the value of volunteer time as this is a ‘hidden cost’ of a neighbourhood plan.  Most grant funders require a ‘match funding’ contribution to the project; this is usually a mix of cash and a volunteer time value.  If applying for grants it will therefore be necessary to estimate the number of volunteer days to be spent on the neighbourhood plan and include this in the applications. It is important to record volunteer time as evidence for the funding body.  

Bear the following in mind when making grant fund applications:-
  • Grants will not usually cover expenditure incurred before the application. 
  • Small Grants will often have restrictions on the timescale of spending e.g. funding needs to be spent within one year or needs to be spent by 31st March.  The budget and time plan will show when the most significant costs will be incurred, which will help in deciding when to submit an application.
  • Some funders operate several grant schemes but will not usually make multiple awards for the same project

Local group to agree a fundraising plan
Possible help needed:
advice on sources of grant funding, assistance with funding applications, examples of volunteer time records

2.6 Keep a record of community involvement and consultation

When your plan is submitted to the local planning authority (5.7), the Neighbourhood Planning regulations require it to be accompanied by a consultation statement setting out the names of those consulted, a summary of the main issues raised, and how those issues were addressed. It will be easier to produce this statement if a record is kept throughout the process.

Local group to maintain a record of community involvement and consultation
Possible help needed:
examples from similar exercises (e.g. diaries of community engagement submitted to local planning authorities with VDS)

2.7 Review existing plans and strategies for the area

It is important to try and understand what implications the following plans and strategies have on the community and on the neighbourhood area.
  • Community Led Plans for the area (previous Village Appraisals, Parish Plans, Market Town Healthchecks, Design Statements)
  • Local authority planning documents (Saved Local Plan, Core Strategy, Allocations Document and other emerging Local Development Framework documents, Supplementary Planning Documents)
  • Local authority Infrastructure Delivery Plan
  • Local authority Community Infrastructure Levy Charging Schedules
  • National Planning Policy Framework
  • Sustainable Community Strategy for each local authority area and related underlying strategies such as housing strategy, economic development strategy, climate change strategy, play strategy, cultural strategy – the names will vary between authorities)
  • Essex Rural Strategy
  • Essex, Southend and Thurrock Waste and Minerals Plan
  • Local Transport Plans for Essex Southend and Thurrock
  • Commissioning School Places in Essex (formerly the Essex School Organisation Plan)
  • Other strategies relating to the environment, health, etc. produced by different public service providers (Natural England, Environment Agency, Strategic Health Authority)
It may be useful at this point for the steering group to have initial discussions with some of the public agencies and service providers to understand whether there are any other aspirations for the area that have not yet been developed into a plan or strategy.

Local group to understand the planning context of the area and establish what it must do, might do and cannot do
Possible help needed:
information about existing policies and strategies, training

2.8 Establish the focus of attention for evidence gathering

The point of this stage is to clarify what it is that the steering group need to find out:
  • If a community led plan has previously been prepared, does it raise any actions that the Neighbourhood Plan can address?
  • What information is needed to get a better understanding of issues raised at the initial meeting (1.2)?
  • How much support is there for courses of action suggested at the initial meeting?
  • What courses of action might be available that have not yet been suggested?
  • What development opportunities are there?  And what areas need to be protected?
  • What other issues should be explored to improve the community’s ability to deal with future threats (such as rising fuel costs, climate change, ageing population etc.)?
  • What topics or themes should be focused on?
A provisional summary of the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats based on issues raised at the initial event (1.2) and the review of existing plans and strategies for the area (2.6) will help establish a focus for further investigation.  The steering group will also need to identify which issues are likely to have equality implications, in particular race, disability and gender identity.

The steering group may wish to set up working groups to focus on gathering evidence under thematic headings.

Local group to agree the main topics and issues to be covered by the Neighbourhood Plan
Possible help needed:
information on emerging and future issues, advice in interpretation of information, advice on equalities implications

Getting Started
Preparing an Evidence Base
Drafting Proposals
Finalising your Plan