What's a Neighbourhood Forum?
In the beginning.....
In early 2015, Knowle Society worked closely with the Dorridge & District Residents’ Association (DDRA) to raise awareness of a change in the law giving communities a greater say in future developments in their area. The way to achieve this is by creating a ‘Neighbourhood Plan’. A number of residents and businesses responded, and have since come together to take up the challenge of working with all sections of our community to set down how we want our villages to develop over the next 10-15 years.
Why do we need a Neighbourhood Forum?
Don’t we already have the Knowle Society and Dorridge & District Residents Associations?
The vast majority of the many Neighbourhood Plans created to date have been developed through Town or Parish Councils. Our villages do not have a Parish Council, however. The Knowle Society and DDRA, as residents associations, do a great job lobbying for our interests but do not carry the weight of statutory bodies.
By law, therefore, we have to form what’s called a ‘Neighbourhood Forum’. This is a body officially recognised by both Central and Local Government to lead development of a Neighbourhood Plan where no Parish Council exists.
The Forum won’t replace the existing resident associations, who continue to work closely with us. Instead, the Forum acts as an umbrella organisation, bringing together the different views and needs across Knowle, Dorridge and Bentley Heath for the benefit of all our communities.
As a statutory body representing a large community, the Forum will have greater power to shape and influence development plans, within the constraints of the legislation.
Who are the Forum?
By law the Forum must include at least 21 members who are representative of the neighbourhood. Anyone who lives, works or runs a business in Knowle, Dorridge or Bentley Heath can become a member.
Around 150 people expressed an interest following on from the initial publicity carried out by the residents associations. From this group, a number of volunteers - ordinary members of the community - came together to consider the merit of creating a Forum and what this entails. This interim group has been meeting regularly, once or twice a month, since then.
The Forum comprises men and women from each of the three communities, businesses and also youth representation, which we see as providing an important perspective in creating a vision for the future of our area. We have contacted all the recently elected local Councillors who have an interest in the area, three of whom are now members (all support the Forum, although some are unable to become members due to a conflict of interest). Both resident associations are represented to ensure we have a ‘joined up’ approach, building on each others’ knowledge and experience.
We are very fortunate in having a high level of relevant expertise within the group (eg. planning, legal, report writing, project management, communications etc), as well as strong community knowledge and awareness.
As at spring 2017, Forum membership now stands at over 800.
What’s the Forum’s remit?
In essence, the Forum’s remit is work across our communities to produce a draft Neighbourhood Plan that will then be put to a Referendum, which everyone who lives, works or runs a business in the Area can vote on.
The form and content of the Plan will be very much dictated by input from all those involved – the greater the input, the better the outcome. It is very important to stress that the Forum leadership’s role is NOT to decide what goes into the Plan, but rather to ensure that the process of developing the content is well managed, fair and representative, and in line with required legislation.
Much of our early focus was to understand resident views. This has provided a start point for where our focus should be, which we will want to test and develop further through community consultation as we start shaping the Neighbourhood Plan.
How does the Forum relate to Solihull Council Planning?
We have been working with Solihull Council to understand the local and wider regional planning context, and to obtain relevant information that will provide the basis for developing our Plan. Our Solihull Council Liaison officer has been very supportive in assisting us to get up and running, and will continue to play an important role in guiding us through relevant planning legislation.
We prepared a formal application to become a Forum and define the exact area we propose the Forum will cover (highlighted in blue on the map here). At the end July 2015 we submitted this application to Solihull Council, and it received official approval in October 2015.
How will the Forum work in practice?
It is vital that the Forum includes as many members of a cross-section of community as possible to ensure it represents all different needs and perspectives.
The team running the Forum (all unpaid volunteers) is very happy to ‘do the leg work’ on behalf of local people – but is acutely aware of the need to stay as close as possible to the needs and wishes of the communities it serves. No-one wants to get to the end of the process (likely to take around 2 years) and find that we’ve wasted our time!
We therefore really do need your input and support - and the best way to show this is to become a Member of the Forum. It costs nothing, while providing you with a channel to have your say and keeping you informed in a way that best suits your needs - via meetings, e-mail or the web.