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Q&A: Two minutes with... Una McGaughrin

Una McGaughrin is an associate who leads AECOM's site assessment for neighbourhood planning work. She is the author of Site Assessment for Neighbourhood Plans, a new toolkit publshed by Locality.

Can you tell us about the toolkit you’ve written?

Site Assessment For Neighbourhood Plans is one of a series of 10 toolkits commissioned by Locality (national network of community-led organisations) for the DCLG. It’s part of a programme of free technical support for neighbourhood planning groups. Four toolkits have now been published, with another six to follow this year.

The toolkits are to help neighbourhood planners understand the process of neighbourhood planning – how they can bring forward the development they want and shape development to best meet the needs of their community and the wider area.

This one explains clearly and simply the principles for allocating sites in a neighbourhood plan, as well as the methods for doing so. It looks at why we consider allocating sites, what the steps are, the different types of site allocations and different types of development, such as housing, employment, and community facilities.

Why is it needed?

There’s guidance out there. There’s Planning Practice Guidance and a number of local planning authorities have put out some great guidance. This is part of the DCLG programme for delivering technical support for neighbourhood planning groups.

When you think about the parameters you have to work within in planning – the steps you have to go through, such as looking at potential sites and whether they are suitable, finding out who they are owned by and whether they are actually developable – these are quite difficult things for a non-professional to do.

I think it’s something communities can do themselves, but obviously they should be working very closely with their planning officers, who should be supporting them through the process.

What principles did you follow while writing Site Assessment For Neighbourhood Plans?

I was thinking about it from the point of view of non-professionals with no background at all. I was starting right from the beginning.

A neighbourhood planning group might have identified a housing need or have been told by the local authority about the need to identify land for homes. I’ve worked from the starting point, which is identifying sites, through to assessing sites to meet criteria. I’ve considered community engagement and linking shortlisted sites to local plan policies.

I’ve looked at why you might want to allocate development in the neighbourhood plan and understanding the context for that, including, for example, conformity with strategic policies of the local plan.

What are the challenges for anyone working with communities on neighbourhood plans?

I think the very concept of having to accommodate and accept that your neighbourhood needs to grow – often that’s a very difficult one for communities to accept.

But once they understand how powerful the neighbourhood planning process can be to help them shape their communities they realise they really can shape where growth goes, and that they have control over the design, layout, height of buildings and pace of development.
They understand that the decisions they make carry weight in planning applications. It’s very empowering when they realise that, and it guides them over a stumbling block.

What’s the value of a resource like this to planners?

It’s a really good resource that neighbourhood planning officers can read and learn from and share with the groups they are working with. After all, it’s the local planning authority that has to support the neighbourhood.

The guide doesn’t replace the support planners’ offer – it supplements it and can be used as a starting point.

Una McGaughrin was speaking to Simon Wicks

Image supplied by AEOCM


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