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My involvement with Planning Aid dates back to the early 1970’s by which time I had obtained a university Geography degree and was gaining some planning experience in local planning authorities in the North West region and Staffordshire. The notion that free planning advice could be made available to all those groups and individuals in need of some Planning advice became of interest to both myself and planning colleagues at that time. Having then obtained my full RTPI Chartered Membership, it seemed an easy step to next take an interest in the RTPI North West region which at that time also included North Wales. My involvement as a Planning Aid volunteer had begun and it has been a privilege to help support Planning Aid in a variety of roles both regionally and nationally.

Over the last decade as an example, the RTPI North West Planning Aid group has undertaken a wide range of projects, mainly across the region but occasionally supporting communities on the periphery of the region for specific projects.  In terms of subject matter, these have included drop-in events for consultations with local communities,  community group workshops, discussions with local authority officers and elected members and workshops with specific plan groups. Support has also been given to emerging neighbourhood plan groups along with town and parish council meetings. Read more about Planning Aid England activity in the North West here.

In terms of outcomes, activities supporting community groups in the North West region have included Local Plan making, Neighbourhood Plan making, Fracking, Research activities, other community work and supporting groups at public inquiries. The main purpose has been to seek to influence decisions which may or would likely affect a local area in terms of a positive outcome and manner. Chartered Members of the RTPI supporting a Planning Aid team have deployed their independent and professional advice and based appropriate evidence on planning issues of relevance.

Also within the last decade, the Localism Act of 2011 has introduced national reforms which sought to make the planning system more democratic and effective.  Most of the key legislation came into place during 2012 so the year 2023 has become the first full decade in which the Localism agenda has been operating. Projects supporting community groups are now common place in many parts of the North West region and beyond. This has enabled projects to flourish which can commence, develop and support neighbourhood and community plans for local areas. 

Interviews undertaken on TV and radio programmes have enabled the media to spread awareness of the Planning Aid services which can in turn provide support for individuals, groups, communities and local planning authorities.  The enthusiasm of Planning Aid volunteers in devoting their own time and energy to the service is recognised within the profession and beyond. This includes delivering Continuing Professional Development  (CPD) to volunteers and/or community groups and attending to, supporting  and contributing to Planning Aid England meetings.  Let’s hope the next generation of  volunteers can carry on with the good work in order to benefit local communities and individuals in need of support and information.