New resources for Neighbourhood Planning groups

CSE has published new resources to help Neighbourhood Planners with community engagement

18 October 2019

CSE’s Low Carbon Neighbourhood Planning Programme supports neighbourhood planning groups to incorporate ambitious climate change mitigation and adaptation policies in their plans.

We’ve long advocated the importance of neighbourhood planning for engaging civil society in the response to the climate crisis - it has huge potential to develop an informed mandate for more ambitious policies (eg. boosting renewable energy generation in a way that would be acceptable to local communities), and also, let’s face it, local and national government need all the help they can get from cicvic society to tackle the monumental societal challenge that is the climate crisis.

As well as offering free assistance and advice for communities to help draft low carbon neighbourhood plans, we’ve been developing a range of online resources. The guidebook we re-published earlier this year outlines best practice policies for groups to use in their plans, but we soon realised more support was needed.

These kind of ‘how to’ resources assume a simple linear relationship between setting out how to do something and it actually happening – ignoring the complicated, messy, human effort needed along the way. They also ignore the legitimately conditional approval of the public for changes which will affect how their landscapes look, their energy is generated, their homes are heated, and how they travel.

So rather than the process as a clean straight line...

Conversations within the community engagement box go something more like this...

To help solve this, with funding from Department for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy, we’ve trialled and published a host of new resources to help neighbourhood planning groups in their community engagement processes – designed to help communities build a consensus and establish a mandate for the inclusion of ambitious climate policies within their plans.

The new resources can be downloaded here, and feature:

A picklist of questions that groups can use to embed climate and sustainability issues into householder surveys, as well as workshops and presentations accompanied by full facilitation notes.

A public workshop designed to get communities involved in creating high level policy objectives for the neighbourhood plan – framed around this question: “Imagine its 2050, or 2035 (choose your own date). We’ve solved the climate crisis and have a safe, stable climate. (Well done chaps, double thumbs up). From that imagined future perspective, look back and describe what we did; how we’ve adapted our villages, towns and cities to reduce emissions and adapt to climate impacts: the houses we live and work in, how we travel.” We’re now working on versions of this for primary and secondary schools.

A workshop designed to help communities work towards an informed consensus about what types of renewable energy might be acceptable within their neighbourhood and possible sites – exploring people’s feelings about their landscape, asking what proportion of their energy use could be generated within their own community from renewable energy, and encouraging them to agree on the types of renewable energy which might be acceptable around them.

Notice that all these approaches ask questions and enable the public to consider how we should respond to the climate crisis, rather than dictate what the right answers are. This can feel like taking a long-way round when many people (CSE included) have strong opinions on the solutions needed. It could be tempting to draw up a technically ‘perfect’ set of policies and then seek to build support around them (the “announce and defend” approach).

But our work has found that it's more effective to use workshops and other participatory processes to enable the public to think through the issues themselves, rather than jumping straight in with solutions – when asked and presented with objective information, the public has a high level of concern about the climate crisis, and a desire for ambitious policies like a requirement for all new development to be carbon neutral and incorporate on-site renewables, 100% renewable energy use, sustainable transport and electric vehicles, net gain in biodiversity, increasing tree cover...

By taking this approach, we ensure that the community itself “owns” the outcomes, and garners wider support around the policies… and often they decide on essentially the same policies that CSE would have recommended anyway.

And these kind of participatory approaches can help expand the space within which politicians and local authorities can safely work. A local authority planner, witnessing the level of ambition for ambitious climate policies on show at one of our workshops went away emboldened, intent on re-writing and tightening up the climate policies within their local plan.

If you would like support with community involvement or policy writing for your “low carbon” neighbourhood plan or if you’d like us to run a workshop for you  please contact us at or on 0117 934 1400.


Stay up to date with our work - sign up for our fortnightly newsletter