When the current UK government signed its coalition agreement in 2010, this included the ambition “to completely recast the relationship between people and the state”. This sentence articulates the ambition to make the state leaner by both spending cuts and re-structuring of the state. While cuts grabbed most media attention (and public anger), attempts are also being made to change the structure of the state. David Cameron summarises the ideas behind it as “The Big Society”: empower local people and communities and take power away from politicians and give it to people.
More than an inspiration for policy making by the government “The Big Society” has become a topic for ideological debate. Still institutes and legislation have been put in place. The most significant one probably being the Localism Act of 2011. This piece of legislation touches upon functions and procedures of local government. It devolves power to a local level, and deals with issues like housing, council tax, elected mayors, the right for charities and voluntary organisations to carry out council services and planning.
“Government thinks that local communities should have genuine opportunities to influence the future of the places where they live,” the guide issued by the Department for Communities and Local Government mentions regarding planning. It clarifies “Neighbourhood planning will allow communities, both residents, employees and business, to come together through a local parish council or neighbourhood forum and say where they think new houses, businesses and shops should go – and what they should look like. (…) Local communities will be able to use neighbourhood planning to grant full or outline planning permission in areas where they most want to see new homes and businesses, making it easier and quicker for development to go ahead.(…) This will help people take advantage of the opportunity to exercise influence over decisions that make a big difference to their lives.”
This sounds very promising, heralded by some as “a rebuilding of society from the ground up” and is followed with keen interest by planning and governance schools all over the continent. But what is happening on the ground? How does it translate into actions in neighbourhoods that are not as well connected as Westminster expects them to be?
To find answers to these questions, City Mine(d) will actively engage with neighbourhood activities in Camden, North London. A group consisting of local residents, councillors, urban planners and civil servants will set up an exchange of experience from different perspectives. Workshops will be organised in which about 30 people will be initiated in what the Localism Act means for their local area, for London, and for them. Besides that a follow-up group of similar composition will be launched in Brussels. This will allow lessons learned to be included in the study of the Localism act in other countries.
In this instance, the BeLearning methodology will be used to train those involved in the complex structures of urban planning. Experts will teach the group in a lecture setting (LEARN), after which debate will be organised to use those skills in the local Camden context (SHARE). In a further stage the trained group will have to involve a wider community and TRANSFER knowledge which will empower them to help shape their local context and thereby ENJOY their knowledge. A dedicated website will serve as a collector of background information, lessons learned and forum for debate. In addition to the skills participants learn, which will allow them to take on professional roles in the field of planning and community development, the project will give those involved a network that will give them avenues towards future employment. The project currently in preparation will start on 1 December, with workshops as part of the local pilot taking place in December 2013 and January/Februar! y 2014.