Parish plans originated with the Government’s November 2000 Rural White Paper. The main objective was to give rural parishes the opportunity to influence more effectively the way in which their community develops by producing a plan that reflected the wishes of the community.
This plan would then be integrated into the wider scheme of local government planning and operation. Social, economic and environmental issues would play a large part in these plans. They have always been expected to go beyond just planning applications and development matters and to address all aspects of community life and needs.
It was recognised that communities are changing all the time, sometimes rapidly, and that residents often have strong views as to whether such change is for the better or not. Parish plans were seen as a way of giving residents an opportunity to influence that change. They were expected by some to be more than a “wish list” or a “NIMBY” statement and would focus not just on the issues of the community but on how those issues could be tackled, through creating an Action Plan. This identifies the partners needed to achieve their goals and to put these action plans into operation. The value of Parish Plans has been increased by the recent Local Government White Paper that recommends the further empowerment not only of the lowest tier of Local Government but also communities in general.
Parish Plans were intended to be evolving documents, looking not just at today but at how the Parish might develop over a 10-year, 15-year or even longer time period.
So far, some 1300 Parish Plans representing some 3000 communities (in many rural areas small parishes have joined together to create a joint plan) have been created and are in operation.
While initially aimed at small rural parishes there was, and is, no barrier to larger less rural parishes developing and operating a plan. We are one such parish, significantly older in local government terms than the borough of which we are part. Our Parish has a character worth preserving and a surrounding countryside that adds to its attractiveness. At the same time we are part of the concentration of economic activity that is the South East and also a component of the area covered by the East of England Plan. Change therefore is inevitable but it must be managed to take into account the needs and wishes of the residents who live in the area.
The idea of a Parish Plan for Welwyn was proposed at the Annual Parish Meeting in 2005. After that meeting a Steering Committee of volunteers was formed and has guided the process since then. While there have always been Parish Councillors on the Steering Committee this is not a Parish Council initiative. However, the Council however, firmly supports the idea of the Parish Plan and the Steering Committee has a formal partnership with the Council and has been partially financed by the Council that provided a grant of £3000 towards the cost of the work. Further funding was achieved through a successful application to Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) via the Community Development Agency for Hertfordshire which provided a further £3200. This money has been used to fund the printing of the initial questionnaire, the Interim Report and this Parish Plan.
The first action of the Steering Committee was to design a questionnaire for residents. This was delivered to all households in the Parish in November 2005 and replies (more than 30,000 plus 5,000 written comments) analysed in early 2006. An interim report on that analysis was delivered to all households in Spring 2006 and its findings presented to the Annual Parish Meeting in April