Creating a shared vision for the Northumberland National Park Local Plan

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.

Clennel Street

Clennel Street

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.

Dr Paul Cowie is a Research Assistant in the School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape

Using Theatre to Engage Communities in Planning

(Left to right: Dr Paul Cowie, and Brad McCormick (Artist Director) and Katy Vanden (Producer) of Cap-a-Pie)

Left to right: Dr Paul Cowie, and Brad McCormick (Artist Director) and Katy Vanden (Producer) of Cap-a-Pie

This is an excerpt of a blog first posted on the HASS Research Impact Blog.

Dr Paul Cowie is a Research Assistant in the School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape. Paul’s research focuses on community planning and community representation in the planning process. Cap-a-Pie bring together professional theatre makers and communities to co-create theatre and foster learning and thinking through a democratic creative process.

How can you get 30 people to spend three hours on a Monday night discussing community involvement in planning? The answer may be through theatre.

It is well accepted by both academics and practitioners that there is a limit to how much consultation a community can take. The dreaded ‘consultation fatigue’ is now a common feature of both research fieldwork and planning engagement efforts. Dr Paul Cowie and theatre company, Cap-a-Pie, have produced a new piece of theatre, The Town Meeting, which has shown that taking an alternative approach can re-engage communities in research in a way that traditional forms of engagement do not. The Town Meeting has generated a rich resource of research material as well as engaging a network of co-researchers who have signed up to be involved in the project in the future.

The play was performed in 6 communities in the spring of 2015, and toured again this month visiting Leeds and Sheffield. The venues ranged from traditional and community based theatres to community centres and village halls. Over 160 people have now been to see the play, including HRH Princess Eugenie of York who enjoyed an excerpt of the play when she recently visited the University. The play will also tour again in April 2016, visiting Keswick, Doncaster and Washington.

The project has recently won the Sir Peter Hall Award for Wider Engagement in the RTPI Awards for Research Excellence.

The story of how the play was developed is available via Cap-a-Pie’s Town Hall podcast.

[You can read the full blog post on the HASS Research Impact Blog.]
The Town Meeting
The Town Meeting