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Neighbourhood planningCommunities, networks and governance$

Nick Gallent and Steve Robinson

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9781447300069

Published to Policy Press Scholarship Online: January 2013

DOI: 10.1332/policypress/9781447300069.001.0001

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Working with local government

Working with local government

Chapter:
(p.123) Ten Working with local government
Source:
Neighbourhood planning
Author(s):

Nick Gallent

Steve Robinson

Publisher:
Policy Press
DOI:10.1332/policypress/9781447300069.003.0010

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter examines the lobbying relationship that parish councils enter into with local government officers and considers how much local authorities might learn about the longer-term aspirations of communities though this relationship. It is argued that this relationship is often characterised as ‘report-react’, with authorities using communities as a sounding board for consultation. The degree of genuine partnership generated is limited

Keywords:   Lobbying, officer-community relationships, consultation

In this chapter and the next, the focus is placed on communication between parish councils, policy actors, service providers and other bodies external to the communities. Reflecting the distinction drawn between bonding and bridging tactics, this analysis has been divided into two chapters. The current chapter considers direct links to the local authority, predicated on a lobbying relationship, with parish councils seeing themselves as part of the hierarchy of local government. The next then looks at a broader range of bridged links through intermediaries, including the support groups introduced in Chapter Seven, the area's LSP and more incidental intermediaries including ward members. The distinction between direct and bridged links is not easy to make. It is sometimes not clear whether a bridge was intended or accidental: parish groups, for example, may have dealings with housing officers regarding a specific development site, but these officers may then bring crucial information (on community feeling) to planning colleagues, potentially influencing policies or decisions. In such instances, there may have been no intention to bridge, but a strong link to housing resulted in an effective, bridged, forward connection. In general, the distinction drawn here is this: lobbying tends to be the object of a direct link, predicated on the belief that pressure can be exerted to change a decision; in contrast, placing (usually of evidence) is the object of an indirect link, performed in the belief that an intermediary can help transmit this evidence (perhaps a community-based plan), in a translated and useable form, to a decision taker.

To maintain confidentiality, parish groups are referred to using the notation introduced in Chapter Seven. The policy actors, however, are named unless there is a good reason for not doing so.

Lobbying links to the local authority

The majority of parish groups had what they judged to be ‘strong ties’ into Ashford Borough Council, usually through named officers who had either a parish liaison role or became known to the community during a local project: housing and development control officers had often built up relationships with parishes during and following planning applications. The few parishes who thought that their ties were weak (p.124) tended to have little direct contact with officers, leaving their ward member to ‘represent their interests’. Invariably, it was parish clerks who maintained these links as part of their reporting responsibilities. Such links were considered useful, with officers being called upon to give advice and with communication seen as a means of defusing tensions. Because the clerks were so pivotal at this interface – they were the ‘best-connected’ individuals, acting as coordinators and communicators for parish councils – they were generally regarded as the ‘entry points’ into parishes or even as ‘gatekeepers’.

But while most communication with public sector services, including the Kent Highways Authority, went through the clerks, political links remained crucial. Lobbying through a ward member was seen as a way of bypassing ‘junior’ officers and getting to the people with real power, including strategic managers and heads of service. However, the ward members were tarred with the same brush as other politicians, ‘filtering information’ for political reasons (PG4), and being prone to rhetoric and divided allegiances, working not only for the communities they represented but also for political parties:

‘I always appreciate [councillor's] contribution to the parish council meetings. He's our borough councillor. He does make sense. When he talks about these things I can understand him. I don't know how he … talks to people at the Borough Council level, but he does tend to pooh-pooh things the Borough Council are doing because he knows that's what we want to hear. He has tried to keep his feet in both camps and he knows he has to do that.’ (PG7)

There were other lobbying tactics, which verged on developing a bridged link. One community sought advantage by asking residents employed by the Borough Council to bring parish concerns to the attention of work colleagues. This strategy was described as ‘tunnelling in’:

‘There's a couple of people in the village who actually work in Ashford as well, there's [named individual], so sometimes … certainly in terms of more the […] Committee … there's a number of times when we've tunnelled into Ashford if you like, we've gone in from somebody who works with Ashford Borough Council rather than going through anything formal, we've come into the centre.’ (PG8)

(p.125) Such tactics were incidental and not available to all parish councils. And so for the most part, contact between clerks and named officers provided the strongest and most consistent connection with the local authority. This connection was used for reporting, for signalling disquiet and for soliciting advice on community planning matters. Although clerks had direct access to community liaison officers, it was often the informal links to someone in housing, in leisure services or in development control that were most valued. The potential for disconnection from these personal contacts was viewed as a significant threat to the relationships that had built up between parishes and the Borough Council over a number of years. Disconnection could result from staffing changes or changes in the parish council, or even from the introduction of an automated telephony system that restricted access to officers, directing parishes instead to frontline customer services staff. Because personal rapport was so highly prized, the connection between parishes and the authority appeared extremely fragile and vulnerable to change (see McEvily and Zaheer, 1999).

In some instances, parish groups had become so frustrated with their lack of direct access to officers that they turned increasingly to “a greater exploitation of the links that elected members have with the council”. But this tactical shift altered the way they were able to connect with the authority. Previously, the relationship had been multifaceted: discussing proposals and talking through their implications, receiving assistance and engaging in a dialogue that could ultimately persuade one party or the other to shift position. But emphasis on the political link changed this, and the focus was increasingly placed on campaigning. Also, members tried to increase enthusiasm, with parish groups, for community plan production without always spelling out its limitations. Expectations were frequently raised, which ultimately jarred against the bureaucratic realities of planning, increasing frustration with the authority and its policy-making processes. This issue is returned to in Chapter Twelve.

Communication and interaction

The parish perspective – ‘fleas on a chimpanzee’

The instrument of communication between parishes and policy actors is the telephone and the focus of this communication is the receipt of planning applications, on which parish councils are invited to provide comment. This simple reality drives a basic spatial dynamic: parishes located further from prospective development – the urban extensions in the case of Ashford – have more irregular but less troublesome (p.126) relationships with the local authority. And the converse is true of parishes located in the path of growth. This dynamic, however, is altered by the human factor, and by what might appear to be incidental or minor issues occupying the minds of parish councils that appear otherwise free of major threats. Sometimes the ostensibly quiet parishes can occupy an inordinate amount of officer time.

Most interaction with planning teams centres upon planning applications or funding bids. It is this type of contact that establishes personal ties. There is far less interaction of a ‘strategic nature’: consulting on policy frameworks or the big changes affecting the wider area, for example. An exception to this general pattern was communication around the Core Strategy of the LDF and around a specific planning document framing decisions affecting the parishes: the Tenterden and Rural Sites Development Plan Document (DPD) (ABC, 2010). The planning team initiated a formal consultation on this document, running workshops and attending parish meetings to publicise the way parishes could feed into it. They had previously done the same with the Core Strategy. However, some parish groups had not fully understood the relationship between these two documents (see Chapter Five), and had invested the bulk of effort in the DPD, not fully appreciating that its main principles had already been established in the Core Strategy. More generally, parishes are seldom proactive in inputting into these exercises in strategic, larger-scale thinking. Rather, they wait for invitations. Moreover, they rarely view parish plans as an input into borough-wide planning (with connectivity to bigger issues, adjacent areas or the long term) or an opportunity to influence broader thinking. Plans express a distinct view of the role of parish councils: to content themselves with local concerns and, generally, with the here-and-now or immediate challenges.

It is also the case that parish plans do not merely deal with land-use change, but connect to a wider suite of concerns. This reflects the standard practice in parish councils of dealing with a range of public sector services, as ‘sectoral issues’ arise or projects progress. Clerks have most frequent contact with environmental, leisure and housing services. Parish councils are reactive to residents' concerns: when a blocked drain is reported or there has been an incidence of fly-tipping, it is often the clerk who will call environmental services. There is more of a project focus with leisure services – specifically involving parks and recreation officers – with parishes often looking to upgrade local facilities such as play areas. Contact of this type is intermittent, but where a project is successful, the relationship with the authority can be greatly improved. In relation to a specific project, the group from (p.127) Mersham with Sevington recalled the assistance of a particular officer: “she knew that we needed some upgrading and she encouraged us to put in an application and she nursed us all the way through. We couldn't have done it without her”.

Such positive experiences helped build trust, making the local authority appear more open to parish councils and, on the whole, friendlier. Many groups reflected on the good relationships they had built up with housing officers. These tended to result from the experience of working on local needs projects, as one group noted:

‘I've had a very good relationship with the strategic housing manager on a number of projects that I've been working on. She's really good. We can work really well together and we're working on both the local needs and the older person's housing schemes and that's a joint parish scheme actually, the older person's housing, where they are trying to encourage small groups of parishes.’ (PG7)

For the most part, housing teams tended to be viewed as a positive force in the parishes, frequently working with communities. Perceptions of planning, however, tended to be more varied. While villages sitting outside the path of growth maintained amicable relations with development control (see above), those in the ‘firing line’ sometimes focused their frustrations on officers. There were exceptions to this. At Great Chart with Singleton, the parish council took the view that a continuous dialogue had exposed the benefits that might accrue from development. This had resulted in a ‘sensible conversation’ and a series of community benefits, delivered through planning agreements. In this instance, the view at Great Chart with Singleton was that parishes needed to ‘do their homework’ if they wished to be treated as partners in a process, rather than uniformed belligerents who were perceived merely as obstacles to progress. Parishes have clear responsibilities.

In that particular parish, however, growth was viewed as a fait accompli. The choice faced was to either ‘go down fighting’ or ‘make the best’ of the situation. There were perceived to be no clear benefits from the first course of action. Elsewhere, the possible outcomes often appeared less certain and more complex and the behaviour of parish councils – the way they connected to the principal authority – was coloured by perceived bias or by negative experience.

Some of the remoter communities, for example, believed that a clear urban bias in Ashford generally resulted in a lack of interest in the affairs of outlying communities, verging on indifference (PG1). But while the (p.128) perception of an urban bias had a propensity to taint relationships, it was the loss of trust – owing to negative past experiences – that could turn them decidedly sour. One parish described its relationship with the local authority as a ‘struggle’: while personal relationships with officers were normal, occasionally edging towards positive, it was the ‘entity’ of planning that was closeted and could not be trusted. The best they could hope for was “to be a flea on a chimpanzee”, irritating it enough to occasionally make it stop and think. All the power rested with the entity, not with the parishes or with any individuals, and this had become a great source of frustration. A view that there were many ‘good planners’, but that ‘planning’ – that is, the system – was not fit for purpose was widely shared.

A vague sense of mistrust in the system was replaced in one parish by a firm belief that the local authority simply could not be trusted to take decisions in a transparent way. The experience of a development ‘concordat’ being signed by the Borough Council and a major landowner in 2005 had placed considerable strain on the parish's relationship with the Borough Council. An agreement to redevelop a major landholding for housing was signed prior to any consultation with residents and then presented as a fait accompli. Vociferous and well-organised opposition eventually ‘defeated the proposal’, but left a legacy of mistrust that also soured Ashford's relationship with other parishes, which suspected that the same high-handed treatment might one day be in store for them. Yet, despite such difficulties, other parish groups felt that much had been learnt from this experience. From the ashes of that debacle, there was a feeling that all parties were now trying to find common ground. In fact, the experience seemed to have been a wake-up call for many in the council, who now recognised that they had ‘got it badly wrong’ and needed to engage in a more constant and meaningful dialogue with parishes if they were to secure trust and win support for some of the more challenging development proposals that the borough would inevitably face:

‘They're certainly trying, and we are too and I would hope they would say the same about us. I think Ashford has come to realise that the parishes probably can contribute far more than they have done in the past and parishes are beginning to realise that they need to contribute more.’ (PG5)

But the parish forums organised by the local authority were rarely viewed as interactive. Since the time of the difficulties noted above, parish councils acknowledged a heightened urgency in the authority's (p.129) efforts to reach out to the communities. However, persuasion seemed to be the objective of this outreach, as opposed to ‘authentic’ dialogue. Indeed, forums were either one-way briefing sessions or opportunities for the most disgruntled parish councillors to let off steam. In most, “you just end up sitting there and nothing ever gets discussed that you want to discuss: they [the Borough Council] only want to discuss what they want to discuss”.

For the most part, parish groups saw little evidence of genuine ‘conversation’ in the way they connected with the Borough, arguing instead that consultations appeared to be stage-managed means of soothing and placating community interests. Running events at neutral venues, away from village halls, was viewed as evidence that planning officers recognised the controversy of plans and proposals, but wished to avoid a potentially hostile setting. For the same reason, it was claimed, the planners avoid too many meetings in the Growth Area, but are regular attendees at village meetings in outlying communities. Over time, this amplifies the anger and frustration of residents in parishes subject to significant development proposals, and enhances the sense of wellbeing in the quieter villages. Dialogue in the former comes to an end and a ‘blockage’ forms in the relationship between community and policy maker, with both parties at fault:

‘I will say that parish councils could possibly make more effort to communicate with the borough and vice-versa, because it's all about communication, and I think there is a blockage somewhere … but much of life really is about people talking to each other, it has to be two-way and there has to be a fundamental willingness on both sides to talk openly.’ (PG10)

Where there are blockages, it is often the case that communities have lost faith in the Borough Council's willingness and capacity to respond to local concerns. The suspicion can quickly arise that policy makers consult merely to demonstrate legitimacy. Not only do they defend their decisions through the process of engagement, they also try to paint these as ‘legitimised’, undertaking business as usual behind a smokescreen of consultation, which is primarily concerned with “ticking boxes” and “covering their backs” (PG7). One group had strong views on this issue, explaining that consultation is part of a “deciding and defending” process: “it's on the list, ‘oh, consult with parish council, tick, done it. Now we can carry on and do what we wanted to do”’.

(p.130) Rather than there being no trust in the dialogue, there is no dialogue to have trust in. This was the view of several groups. Some reserved particular cynicism for the consultations surrounding the Growth Area strategy. Given that the strategy was initiated by central government, as part of the Communities Plan (ODPM, 2003), groups felt that any attempts by local communities to either oppose it or make recommendations that would ultimately delay it would naturally be resisted by the Borough Council. In reality, there was nothing that parish councils or local community groups could do to ‘shape’ the strategy – which was entirely top down – and therefore the consultations were ‘empty’. Central diktat cannot be challenged:

‘I sometimes wonder if these councillors are naive or something when they talk about consulting with the public. Do they actually believe it? Are you saying “yes, if you object to this, we're really going to take it on board and odds are we'll agree with you and scrap the plans”? I can't see that.’ (PG8)

But all of this cynicism and frustration could not entirely extinguish the good interpersonal relationships between some clerks and some officers. What many parishes valued was the willingness of officers to listen to community groups and do ‘as much as they could’ within the parameters of decisions that had been imposed upon them as much as upon the parishes. It was also acknowledged that within the framework of these big strategic decisions, officers were often willing to concede as much as they could in terms of detail. Under these circumstances, trust in individuals could be maintained even when trust in the process (or in the ‘entity’) was lost.

Personal dynamics are critically important at the interface between parishes and local authorities, and seem to improve in areas afflicted by fewer challenges and in those instances where the limited power of local policy actors to make concessions is acknowledged. Good interpersonal relationships, built on a dialogue that delivers mutual understanding, have a propensity to entirely change the experience of policy making. But all too often, these relationships stand in the way of this dialogue, either because planning professionals focus on the ‘education and persuasion’ of local residents or because the expectations of parishes far exceed what officers are able to deliver.

(p.131) The local authority perspective

From an officer perspective, the parish councils provide the critical entry point into communities. They are the ‘practical community’ for planning purposes although that is not to say that the existence of other voices is not acknowledged. Occasionally, effort is expended on building links with community interest groups, but these usually lack a capacity to engage with policy makers in a consistent way and, for this reason, emphasis is placed on connecting with the parish councils, building “pretty good linkages” and engaging in “proactive” discussions (planning policy team). The relationship with parishes was framed by the adopted Statement of Community Involvement (part of the LDF), which set out how planners in the Borough Council would involve communities in planning matters. One officer noted that “we've done more than our formal requirement to engage … particularly with parish councils”, emphasising the claim that ties were strong. Again, these strong links with parishes were thought to compensate for the paucity of connections with other groups, which were difficult to identify and which may not have had a “window of opportunity to get involved”.

Parish councils have been the principal, if not sole, framework for neighbourhood planning in rural and semi-rural areas. In instances where a parish has both ‘urban’ and ‘rural’ parts, there is a clear tendency for the rural part to be better represented. Development control officers have a statutory duty to notify parishes, where they exist, of planning applications received. For development control, parishes provide a procedural interface. Where they are absent, or where interests appear to overlap, notifications may be sent to other groups. Listed residents' associations (eg, the Sandyhurst Lane Residents' Association on the edge of Ashford) sometimes substitute for parish councils, or documents are sent to conservation or preservation societies (including the Weald of Kent Protection Society). Other urban forums will receive application notifications where there are no parish councils, but the distribution of planning documents to non-elected bodies is not a statutory requirement: rather, it is a means of forging better relationships and trying to avoid difficulties further along the planning process.

Whether parish councils or urban community forums were the point of contact for development control officers (the former being easier to deal with), the objective of this contact tended to be ‘notification’ rather than ‘consultation’. Statutory duty required information to be dispatched. For smaller applications, the strategy tended to be one of ‘wait and see’. Documents were posted and no further action was taken unless a response was received. For bigger applications, perhaps (p.132) more contentious ones, officers tended to engage in more personal contact with the objective being to ‘push things along’. It was often necessary to take particular care when dealing with Ashford's rural communities, many of which were thought to contain significant numbers of articulate, educated, middle-class residents with a vested interest in development issues. From a development control perspective, this could make the interface with rural communities more challenging. But from the perspective of most officers, relations with communities in rural Ashford had been defined by a great many positive experiences, especially around the delivery of rural housing projects. Strong ‘member support’ for such projects within the Borough Council meant that the housing department had a high-profile presence in rural Ashford, which was built, at a parish level, upon regular contact between residents and project officers. But the delivery of affordable homes for local need had not only cast housing officers in a positive light, it had also improved relations with other parts of the local authority.

Improving connectivity to ‘communities’

The good interpersonal relationships highlighted in the parishes were confirmed in the local authority. However, many officers took the view that better connectivity with communities had also been achieved through systemic changes in local government and in planning, a view generally refuted by parish councils, which viewed the system as increasingly complex, remote and inaccessible (see Chapter Eleven). Notably, the secretariat of the LSP argued that a once-remote and high-level structure had been brought closer to residents, and stronger community links had been achieved by rebalancing the membership of the LSP towards County and Borough Council members, alongside representatives of voluntary and community network groups. These provided a counterbalance to ‘agency representatives’ from the Government Office, SEEDA and The Housing Corporation (now the Homes and Communities Agency), and brought a realignment with the interests of communities. But while additional political representation from within Ashford may well bring advantages, the extent to which it will strengthen community connection is unclear. The claim that having additional ‘voluntary and community’ sector representation brought the LSP closer to communities was rejected by the parish councils who argued that ‘community networks’ were in fact distant membership associations who, while advancing the need for a local perspective, were themselves detached from any particular local view. (p.133) Hence, the LSP sought representation of the local, but had no direct connection to the parishes.

The Borough's planning policy team was clear that planning reform in the 2000s, like the new local governance structures, had also brought policy makers closer to communities. In particular, it was suggested that its Statement of Community Involvement had “focused people's minds” on the processes and benefits of engagement. Planning policy was no longer going “out with an advert to consult on a document” but instead engaging communities in the “way they want to be engaged”. Indeed, officers thought of themselves as highly proactive in the gauging of local interest, contrasting this to an unspecified period of apparent reluctance to talk to communities. This new enthusiasm to work with and for parish groups was highlighted by development control officers who, like the parish groups, referred to the “development of the Tenterden and Rural Sites DPD”, which had “built a lot of bridges” and strengthened local ties. For their part, parish groups had an entirely different take on the Tenterden and Rural Sites DPD consultation. While they valued the opportunity to input, many were frustrated that issues of principle had been previously agreed in the Core Strategy. Many had not realised that this would be the case, had waited for the ‘rural’ document to be issued and had then found that the opportunity to challenge issues of principle had passed (see Chapter Thirteen).

The ‘parochialism’ of parish interests

From a policy-making perspective, any improvements in the mechanics of interfacing with community interests may ultimately be offset by the inevitable frictions focused upon key personalities. A familiar picture was painted of vested interest and conflict in Ashford's affluent rural areas, where there are large numbers of ‘politically active’ professional residents, who constantly confront planning proposals with “unreasonable expectations”. “Parochial” and “closeted” attitudes make it difficult to work with some parish councils. However, relationships were said to vary from one parish to another, and also from individual to individual within parishes, but the relationship with parish councillors, who tended to be “retired, professional people wandering the streets … looking for something to do” was considered especially problematic.

More generally significant was the rejection of expert opinion as being out of touch with the realities of daily life. Highways officers felt accused of not having a real ‘feel’ for places, with residents assuming that “all traffic engineers live in cul-de-sacs” and so cannot understand the concerns of communities blighted by heavy traffic along arterial (p.134) roads. There was felt to be a ‘dehumanising’ of professionals across the board: an aversion to professional opinion and a lack of trust in it. While some officers were undoubtedly resilient to interpersonal tensions, others lamented the lack of empathy between residents and officers of the council, arguing that officials were commonly seen as ‘the enemy’ and out of touch.

Such personal experiences are important in shaping relationships, for better or worse, but it is also the case that attitudes, regularly expressed in rural areas that have received significant levels of middle-class migration, place an added strain on otherwise good relations. Planners pointed to what they saw as a proliferation of anti-development sentiment in some communities, underpinned by a vested interest – in maintaining the character of villages – which they nevertheless conceded to be totally understandable. The policy team avoided the pejorative use of the term ‘NIMBY’, asserting that their relationship with parishes had been generally good, accepting that there are many “communities who want to have a say in the future of their settlements”. It was conceded that events such as the aborted housing development discussed earlier, had soured relationships with some communities, bred mistrust, and that there were certainly “lessons to be learnt”. Because of their regular contact with parish clerks – being on “first-name terms with most” – development control officers claimed a particular insight into the local authority's relationship with its parishes. Frustration is greatest, and tensions at their deepest, where parish councils lack a general understanding of their role and position in broader local government structures, where they are uninitiated in the art of lobbying and unable to find their way around the apparatus of local service provision. Parishes need resources to get the best out of these structures and apparatus. This means that some larger, more affluent parishes find that the system appears to work for them, while their smaller neighbours may feel alienated by the same system.

Communication is critical, both communication (and the ‘open channels’) between the parishes and the local authority, and communication within communities, which develops proper understanding of what parish structures can genuinely achieve. Friction with parishes can be worst at community meetings attended by service providers. These events sometimes reveal parish councils to be disconnected from the wider community: officers become the focus of frustration for some residents. But the reality is that the parish council has failed to connect with local people and with higher structures. Rather, they are isolated and do not provide the necessary (p.135) conduit through which people on the ground communicate with those providing them with services:

‘I think the problem here is about communication more than anything else … the local residents or the constituents have no real understanding of what parish councils do and they probably have no understanding of what Ashford Borough Council does. I think it's trying to disseminate who does what and when and I think that's the problem: people don't really understand who is responsible for the roads, who does this and who does that and then, how does that impact upon the decision makers?’

But if communities are bewildered and challenged by the policy environment and its constraints, attempts to open it up by chipping away at it may ultimately prove fruitless. Their tactics may need to change, and they may only achieve influence with the right support.

The ‘reactive’ community

In some areas, parish councils are an established feature of local governance, representing the interests of residents and playing an important role in securing quality services for communities. But they are generally a ‘representative structure’ with a mandate to connect with external bodies on behalf of their constituents. Here, we have examined the conventional processes of upward connection to service providers through the parish clerks and council members. Parishes have traditionally lobbied providers with the aim of securing a specific outcome. The pattern of observe–respond is present in the relationship with Highways, which is regularly viewed as a ‘fixer’ and contacted whenever anything goes awry with roads and pavements. It is also present with development control, which notifies parishes of planning applications and then waits for (but does not necessarily seek) a response. Planning policy's relationship is different as it is not triggered by daily events, but rather a cycle of strategizing, which requires a relationship that is synchronous with the preparation and review of statutory planning documents as they are issued and consulted upon. But, the direct connectivity of parish councils to broader structures has several common features:

  • It is predicated upon, and favours, personal relationships with parishes invariably preferring to work with named officers.

  • (p.136) The relationship is largely a lobbying one, with parishes reacting to events (usually local but occasionally relating to broader planning policy) and seeking to bring about change by demonstrating anger with a decision or outcome.

  • It is strongly reliant on the clerk as a key juncture in the link between the parish council and service providers. The degree to which information flows freely through the clerk is unclear, but they are critical players, connecting external agencies to the ‘community’.

  • But the community is not the parish, and parishes may have weak connectivity themselves to the people they serve. It is certainly wrong to assume that where a policy actor connects to a parish or neighbourhood group that ‘participatory’ processes are in play. The extent of participation may remain limited to a few, highly specific interests.

Finally, what prevents a reactive parish or neighbourhood group, with weak connectivity to the apparatus of local government, become proactive and better connected? There is a certainly a case for establishing a greater range of connections – for building in greater ‘redundancy’ – and for bridging over the undercurrent of mistrust that may exist between ‘planning and people’. This is examined in the next chapter. But the proactive community is also a well-resourced one, which has the means to develop new relationships, engage positively in community-based planning and become more than merely reactive.