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Jonathan Nicholson

Jonathan Nicholson

Tell us about some of your recent volunteering...

I have been a planning aid volunteer for more than 25 years. Recently, I was asked to act as a "critical friend" for the North Shields Fish Quay Neighbourhood Plan.

In fact the community had decided that they did not want their document to be a full Neighbourhood Plan – more of an SPD to guide development in their area. Even so, the Government was keen for the plan to continue to be regarded as a Neighbourhood Planning pilot "Front Runner". Indeed the draft plan, as well as containing some very well-thought out SPD-style advice on design and layout in this historic area, also included many of the community's aspirations for future land uses and the future functioning of the area.

How did your support make a difference?

I saw it as my job, applying my experience as a planner in local government and a PAE volunteer, to help the local residents to get maximum planning value from their document which, after all, had been based on considerable work over many months and an excellent understanding of the neighbourhood.

There seemed to me to be an opportunity for many of the aspirations in the draft plan to be separated off and act as advice from the community to the local council who were, in any case, in the process of drawing up an Area Action Plan for a somewhat wider area. This would potentially allow the local community to see some of their ideas emerge as firm policies and proposals in a statutory plan even though they did not themselves wish to go down the statutory planning route.

I was also able to advise them on how they may be able to demonstrate better how their proposals had been objectively assessed and where further work may be needed. In addition, there was a need to tie the SPD and other aspects back to the existing policies in the UDP, which I was able to do.

I did find the fact that I was presenting a substantial, finished piece of work to the community to be satisfying.

While my role was a slightly more at "arm's length" from the community being helped than is typically the case with PAE volunteering, I did find the fact that I was presenting a substantial, finished piece of work to the community to be quite satisfying. As I understand it, my input has been helpful to the community in pressing ahead with their plan.

Interested in volunteering for Planning Aid England?

Please see our How to apply page.

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