In 2015/16 Renaisi worked in partnership with Tony Burton CBE and the Community Development Foundation (CDF) to design and deliver the Department for Communities and Local Government Neighbourhood Planning & Capacity Building programme.

Neighbourhood planning was one the Cameron government’s flagship policies for devolving power and decision making to local communities. The government wanted communities to become more self-reliant and to take advantage of new powers available to them to improve their local areas, including through neighbourhood planning. Although the take up of neighbourhood planning across England since the Localism Act came into force in 2011 was good, it was by no means universal. There are parts of the country where take up was low, and deprived, urban areas in particular were slow to take up the opportunity.

The Neighbourhood Planning & Capacity Building Evaluation project was designed to achieve four main objectives:

  1. To build the capacity of local voluntary and community organisations in six areas in the most deprived 20% of wards, on the Index of Multiple Deprivation (IMD) 2015 to enable them to raise awareness of neighbourhood planning within their local community through a greater understanding of the process and benefits of neighbourhood planning;
  2. To support the community organisations to deliver on-the-ground activities in their local communities, funded through a small grant awarded to the organisations and designed to encourage local people to get involved;
  3. To inspire similar communities and enable them to take up neighbourhood planning through capturing and disseminating the learning from this project, through the production of legacy materials including training materials and case studies;
  4. In the long term, to increase the number of communities in deprived areas who are using neighbourhood planning to take control of how their area develops in the future.


Six community organisations were selected to participate in the Neighbourhood Planning Capacity Building project, from across 5 different regions. varied in terms of size, structure, aims and capacity but can broadly be classified into two types: borough wide umbrella and infrastructure organisations; and more neighbourhood focused community and voluntary organisation. The organisations were:

  1. BBWCVS in Basildon, Essex
  2. Love Burnt Oak in Barnet, North London
  3. Beechwood in the Wirral, North West
  4. Blakelaw Ward Community Partnership in the North East
  5. Bangladeshi Women’s Association in the West Midlands
  6. Calderdale Community Foundation in Yorkshire & Humber

Between January and March 2016, a programme of ‘light touch’ training and capacity building was delivered to each of the community organisations, using experienced facilitators with a background in both community development and neighbourhood planning.

The facilitators, mainly Renaisi-employed associates, provided advice, guidance and encouragement to help each organisation to make sense of neighbourhood planning while also unlocking their capacity and leadership to advocate for neighbourhood planning within their communities. Each organisation received approximately 25-35 days’ worth of face-face, telephone and email support. The community organisations also received a £2,000 ‘Getting Started’ grant and support from the facilitator to deliver a wide range of local engagement activities to help raise awareness about neighbourhood planning and inspire residents to get involved.


The evaluation was conducted using a mix of both quantative and qualitative research methods, including surveys, field observations and the use of unstructured interviews and conversations with local people and training facilitators. The main evaluation report details the journey of each of the six community organisations and areas and provides an analysis of the overall project outcomes, including the impact on the knowledge and likelihood of the community organisation leading on neighbourhood planning both before and after the training. In summary:

  • All 6 areas expressed an interest in developing a neighbourhood plan
  • All 6 areas are now at various stages of either accessing support or undertaking further engagement activity to raise awareness of neighbourhood planning locally;
  • 4 areas have applied for, or are applying for, additional funding to take neighbourhood planning forward;
  • 6 areas have established or are establishing neighbourhood forums; and
  • 6 areas have defined or are in the process of defining their boundaries.

While ‘definitive’ neighbourhood planning outcomes are beyond the term of the contract, all the data points to communities that are interested in taking control and making use of tools, like neighbourhood planning, to help create the change they desire in their local area, if properly supported. Similarly, as expected the data reveals that the project helped the community organisations and participants to feel more knowledgeable, confident and interested in developing a neighbourhood plan after a programme of capacity building and training.


Based on the findings of the research, the report made recommendations summarised here:

  1. A targeted intervention to stimulate the market and provide practical support and guidance has yielded positive results.
  2. The data suggests that neighbourhood planning might enjoy a greater take up in deprived, urban areas if certain ‘catalysts’ are present such as: complementary activities (e.g. Big Local, Estate Renewal, Community Organisers) or other neighbourhood level programmes and place making.
  3. Participants in deprived urban areas reported a remarkably consistent set of motivations to engage in neighbourhood planning.
  4. There are number of obstacles likely to frustrate the take up of neighbourhood planning in deprived urban areas which need to be acknowledge and accommodated e.g. a lack of skills, knowledge and capacity, and more.
  5. Progress with neighbourhood planning is possible, even in areas at the higher end of the deprivation scale – so long as the supporting community infrastructure is in place.
  6. A funded programme of face to face support, during the early stages, has been central to the progress reported by each of the 6 areas. Similarly the type of support matters with the focus much more on capacity building, facilitation and brokering relationships rather than the more technical aspects of neighbourhood planning.
  7. A programme of training and capacity building around neighbourhood planning can help increase community organisations’ skills, knowledge and motivation to lead on neighbourhood planning.
  8. The link between the spatial and social needs to be more clearly defined so as to demonstrate where the value is in preparing a neighbourhood plan.
  9. Whether by accident or design, all 6 of the areas have endeavoured to link into other neighbourhood-level programmes and activities in their area. They see neighbourhood planning as a natural extension to some of this activity and another lever to help realise their ambitions for their areas
  10. Neighbourhood planning is not a linear process and neither is the community engagement process. It is messy, iterative and opportunistic. Another important lesson from this programme is to take the engagement ‘to’ local people rather than expect them to come to you.
  11. There is demand for simple and clear guidance especially for communities where there may be literacy or language issues, which serve as additional barriers to engagement.

The full evaluation report summarises the journey of each of the six communities and provides an analysis of the programme outcomes, including the impact on the knowledge and likelihood of the organisation leading on neighbourhood planning both before and after the training. It also provides some conclusions and recommendations for how to engage similar communities to take up neighbourhood planning in the future.

Renaisi continues to work on the Big Local programme along with other place-based programmes such as Place Based Social Action, Empowering Places, Local Motion. Find out more about Renaisi’s work in place.