In this post, Dr Paul Cowie explains how an innovative piece of theatre is helping shape Northumberland National Park.
The next phase of the Town Meeting project starts with a dress rehearsal of the new version of the Town Meeting play. Over the past year, Cap-a-Pie and I have been working with Northumberland National Park to create a version of the play that will help the National Park start the consultation process on the new Local Plan. The new version of the play aims to link the Local Plan being developed now with the actual planning decisions it will affect over the next five years. Often communities do not see the need to get involved in the process of framing the Local Plan as they see little direct relevance to their lives. Only when, a few years later perhaps, an actual planning decision has to be made using the plan do they get involved.
We hope to change this by creating a fictitious planning application set within the National Park which takes place in the near future. The scenario aims to test the community’s views on certain planning principles and their vision for the National Park. The new play also has a secondary aim, which is to highlight the limits of planning. Many issues that concern communities do not fall within the domain of the Local Plan. For example issues such as better public transport links or more community activities. In the statutory planning process these are often seen as a distraction. However these ideas need to be developed and encouraged. It’s hoped our new co-production process can also capture these non-planning planning issues and connect them to resources and people that can help.
As far as we know, this is the first time this method of theatre as a tool for planning has been tried so there will be a more traditional consultation process running in parallel to the theatrical events. However we hope this will be a fun and engaging way to get involved in what can be a quite off-putting process.
If you’re in Northumberland and are interested in framing the new Local Plan for the National Park in a new and innovative way we will be holding events in Elsdon Village Hall on the evening of the 18th October and in Harbottle Village Hall on the evening of the 28th October. See the Northumberland National Park website for more info.