UCL and community action groups work together

Students and staff at UCL in London have been collaborating with community and voluntary organisations in London on the development of critiques of, and alternatives to, the Draft Replacement London Plan, recently prepared by the new Mayor, Boris Johnson. This cooperation has been supported by a grant from UCL’s Public Engagement Unit and is reported in this web site – which in effect has been a working tool. The result of thecollaboration is submissions by the various groups—now 23—which have drawn to a greater or lesser degree on the UCL work and on discussions designed to improve the integration of the submissions.  The submissions themselves, which represent the views of the groups (not the views of UCL), were submitted to the Mayor in January and are collected on a separate web site http://justspace2010.wordpress.com

This initiative builds on the Just Space Network which was formed by London NGOs and local groups to coordinate actions for the previous version of the Plan in 2007 and will continue at the Examination in Public (EiP) of the Draft Plan which runs from late June until October 2010.

About a dozen postgraduate students and staff from UCL (so far all from the Bartlett / faculty of the built environment) helped summarise the provisions of the draft plan, make comparisons with the previous plan and gather evidence to support the representations being prepared by the groups.  These groups range from local residents’ and tenants’ action groups in various parts of London through to established NGOs like the Council for Voluntary Servce and Friends of the Earth and some London-wide organisations representative of diverse ethnic groups and of other ‘equalities’ categories which tend to be marginalised in planning decisions.

A full list is : London Forum of Amenity and Civic Societies; London Tenants Federation; Hayes and Harlington Community Forum; King’s Cross Railway Lands Group (KXRLG); London Gypsy and Traveller Unit; Race on the Agenda (ROTA); London Voluntary Service Council (LVSC); Women’s Design Service; Camden Tenants Federation; North Finchley Agenda 21 Environment Forum; London Civic Forum; Friends of the Earth; Black Neighbourhood Renewal and Regeneration Network; Age Concern London; Third Sector Alliance (3SA); Spitalfields Community Association; Better Transport campaign; Development Trusts Association; Friends of Queen’s Market; Haringey Fed of Residents’ Assns;  Inclusion London; London Play; Regent’s Network; Capital Transport Campaign.

Here are some of the responses to the collaboration so far:

Alison Blackwood of the London Voluntary Service Council LVSC writes: “I found the project incredibly useful – apart from Harini’s help, there was also the analysis of all the different parts of the plan and the impact assessments. The level of discussion at our meetings was really detailed because so much work had been done by the students. I used this work in my own responses and thought it gave them an additional insight and authority that they would have lacked if the project had not gone ahead.

I know it was also useful to many other voluntary and community sector organisations who used our draft responses, or the website, as a basis for their own responses to any or all of the three papers out for consultation at the time. I received e-mails or had telephone conversations  in relation to this project from groups including North London CVS network, Black Neighbourhood Renewal and Regeneration Network, Race on the Agenda, London Resource Network, School for Social Entrepreneurs, Age Concern London, bassac and Greater London Volunteering.”

Juliana Martins, postgraduate at UCL, comments ” … I believe my participation in the Just Space project was very fruitful for me. It was an opportunity to study the London Plan and to learn about different perspectives for the economic development of London. My involvement also allowed me to meet people that lead important community organizations and to get to know their concerns about London. Finally, Just Space presented a very interesting opportunity to engage in a key planning process and to contact with the public participation system in the UK.

In terms of future developments for Just Space or similar projects, one possibility would be to create an “engagement unit” within the Bartlett School of Planning that would coordinate these projects in a more formal structure. This unit could be responsible for advertising these projects, organize related seminars, promote the development of dissertations within the Masters courses, among other things. The main advantage would be to have a contact point and to create a more continuous project that would, I believe, encourage student participation.

Julienne Chen, postgraduate visiting UCL from Amsterdam, wrote “… I think it’s a great project, … and was tremendously helpful in gaining a more in-depth understanding of the London/British planning system, the real and up-to-date concerns of involved parties (that we don’t read about in textbooks) and evidence-based policy (which is a new concept for Americans). It was also a good avenue to get involved in something UCL-based that is productive and extends beyond the school’s academic boundaries – also lots of potential as a seed to breed inter-departmental collaboration in the future.

I think it could attract more students if there was slightly more organization in terms of expressing tasks, meetings, vision, timelines but I think there will be lots of material from this time (and the helpful website) that is needed to produce something like that. I’m more than happy to help with some kind of graphical representation/road map that could be easily modified for future iterations. For instance, I think because there were so many meetings with different students present, it was a little difficult to figure out who was doing what, what were the most important pieces and what still needed to be done. I also wonder about engaging more community organisations in addition to students and staff.

What I did – Attended one of the Just Space meetings. Helped draft and layout the report on the FOE/Just Space meeting in Nov. Wrote evidence pieces on mixed-tenure housing and regeneration effects. Summaries of representations and tabulation of issues and groups.

Bernard Bourdillon of the London Gipsies and Travellers Unit said: “… LGTU did not learn anything significant in relation to the technicalities of its core business from UCL or jsn. This is NOT a case of straight knowledge transfer.  But the network and UCL’s involvement did allow LGTU, for the first time, to make connections with other tenants’ organisations (probably more than 95% of London Gypsies and Travellers, whether in houses or on sites, are tenants), with environmental organisations (the Westway traveller site is one of the most polluted residential areas in the UK), and with others who have been through the EiP process recently.

For me the most interesting new information and understanding was around the London housing system – from meeting with Duncan Bowie and the London Tenants Federation.  Next was the guidance on the EiP structure from the old hands.

June Taylor, UCL postgraduate, among many comments, writes: ” … the meetings were all intellectually stimulating, as was the process of working on the paper.  …taking part in the process encouraged me to look at the draft Plan, and the discussions gave me more of a feel for its contents than i would have had otherwise. attending the meetings also gave me some interesting insights into how different organisations operate and how they relate to one another in coalitions, the ‘internal politics’ of representing diverse interests and the tensions within the plan-making process, and helped develop my professional self-confidence.  all of this seems like job-useful professional development, so for me being involved in the process has been a success…

To review the submissions made by the member-groups, and for many other useful links and documents, go to http://justspace2010.wordpress.com

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