Neighbourhood Planning Research Briefings

Neighbourhood Planning has been a subject of interest to academics. There is ongoing research which explores various aspects of the process, how it is being implemented as well as recommendations as to how it could be improved.

Our work on the User experience of NP is expressed in three reports, for the latest one see:

Neighbourhood Planning HIVE report (June 2018)


A comprehensive crowd-sourced bibliography of academic publications and resources on neighbourhood planning is available here.


See Neighbourhood Planning in Practice – new accessible book out January 2019


We have provided short synopses of research of relevance and interest to those engaged in neighbourhood planning based on a series of themes:


  • Inclusion/diversity

The decision as to whether to develop a neighbourhood plan rests with communities. Only those with the time, skills, resources and motivation are likely to engage in the process (Davoudi and Cowie, 2013). Concerted efforts must be made to engage with the wider community with open consultation and debate to be encouraged (Vigar, Brookes and Gunn, 2012).

Groups need to ensure that the plan represents, as far as possible, the views of residents, businesses and those employed within the area with specific attention to be paid to engaging with ‘hard to reach’ groups.  A range of methods should be used to get as many people involved as possible, with ongoing engagement through the development of the plan.

Locality have published a Neighbourhood planning community consultation guide which includes information on the community engagement process, principles as well as top tips and case study examples.


  • Quality and robustness of the process

Concerns have been raised regarding the ability of ‘lay persons’ to write implementable planning policies (Parker et al, 2015; Parker and Wargent, 2017) with many groups seeking professional input resulting to concerns regarding re-scripting and the loss of community ownership (Parker et al, 2015). Support from the Local Planning Authority is considered to be instrumental however there is a mixed picture of Local Planning Authority / community relations emerging.  The examination is a key stage in the process resulting in the majority of plans facing substantial modification (Parker, Salter and Hickman, 2016). Every effort should be made by groups to ensure the submitted Plan meets the requirements and that the policies are written clearly and concisely and are supported a robust evidence base. 

There are a wealth of resources available to assist groups with the technical aspects of plan development, details of which can be found in this resource pack.   Planning Aid England have published advice on how to engage and work constructively with your local planning authority and Locality on commissioning consultants.


  • Innovation

Neighbourhood Planning provides communities the right to shape the future development of their area and to address the specific issues facing their locality. Some examiners have expressed frustration that communities are not being bold enough in their aspirations which is resulting in missed opportunities (Parker, Salter and Hickman, 2017).

While the jury is still out on whether neighbourhood planning is delivering additional housing, attention is being placed on the positive and innovative outcomes of the neighbourhood planning process.  Research by Bradley (2017) has found that by invoking a sense of community identity, through the inclusion of “place identify” frames such as “market town” or “village life” neighbourhood plans may be able to win community support for development.  Furthermore, some neighbourhood plans have taken the opportunity to advance socially and environmentally sustainable solutions and to prioritise local issues such as heritage, identity and local housing needs including providing housing for older people, young families and households with disabled residents (Bailey, 2017; Bradley and Sparling, 2016; Field and Layard, 2017 ). Thus neighbourhood plans may deliver different ways of ‘doing’ planning with different considerations and a range of motivations and aspirations that are fundamentally distinct from explicit business models of the large UK house-building companies.

A neighbourhood plan should be locally distinctive and focus on addressing the key issues in the area. The policies should be clear, concise and implementable and be supported by a robust evidence base. Guidance is available on how to write planning policies, how to gather and use evidence and how to structure a neighbourhood plan.


  • Peer learning (practitioner perspective

Neighbourhood plans have to meet a series of legislative requirements and are constrained in what they can and cannot deliver. This has led to concerns from local authority planners as to the extent that communities are ‘empowered’ to shape their area and their ability to influence local development. Furthermore, national government view neighbourhood planning as a tool to deliver growth and a mechanism to promote greater housing delivery within localities. Conflicts can thus emerge between the ‘empowerment’ and ‘growth’ agendas as well as the influence of knowledge held by ‘local heroes’ and that by ‘remote officials’ (Stanier, 2014). These differing views and perspectives on neighbourhood planning can lead to distrust between communities and local / national government.

Detailed guidance and advice on Neighbourhood Planning can be accessed as part of National Planning Practice Guidance suite – this includes information on what a neighbourhood plan is, what can and cannot be delivered in a neighbourhood plan, the stages that must be followed and the role of the local planning authority.


  • Conflict and relations 

Neighbourhood planning has the potential to cause tension within and between local communities as well as with the local planning authority because of the emotional connections to people and place. Conflict can emerge when defining the neighbourhood area boundary, in relation to broader questions regarding the representativeness and legitimacy of those engaged in the process and due to differing views and opinions on the ‘future’ of the locality.

The mediating influence of local authorities, consultants and examiners on neighbourhood plans (to make them complaint with national policy and ready for public referendum) can work to dilute and re-frame the ambitions of local communities and their intended outcomes creating friction between the key actors (Parker, Lynn and Wargent, 2017). Furthermore, whilst neighbourhood planning offers a new and accessible community outlet for local politics (Bradley, 2015), there are concerns that apparent consensus might actually hide different local views, opinions and knowledge about the locality (Vigar, Gunn and Brooks, 2017). Particularly when working within ‘super diverse’ communities that often characterise urban areas (Colomb, 2017).

Locality have published a Neighbourhood planning community consultation guide which includes information on the community engagement process, principles as well as top tips and case study examples.   Planning Aid England have published advice on how to engage and work constructively with your local planning authority and Locality on commissioning consultants.