Having read the new Equality and Diversity case study published in October I was heartened to learn of all the examples of good practice currently taking place in the planning world. I fear that the issue of equality and diversity is often overlooked by planners and any consideration of the diverse needs of a community seen as secondary to the main job of delivering infrastructure and approving/refusing planning applications.
The Equality Standard for Local Government provides local authorities with advice and useful tools such as Equality Impact Assessments (EqIA). EqIAs enable officers to make more effective use of the information and knowledge that they already have about their local communities and to identify any gaps in consultation and data monitoring. This process of course relates to planning, however I fear that it often falls to corporate Equalities teams to nag planners (and those from other services) into completing an EqIA rather than it being regarded as part of an everyday process.
The recently published Equality and Diversity case study looks specifically at how planners should consider equality and diversity issues as part of the planning process. One of the examples featured in the case study is that of the Gender and Community Engagement in Manchester (GEM) study commissioned by Manchester City Council in 2003 and undertaken by the then Manchester Women’s Network (MWN), a partner organisation of Oxfam. This is an excellent example of a local planning authority and a third sector organisation working in partnership for the benefit of the whole community.
Through a little bit of further research I discovered that the GEM project evolved in 2006 to become the GAP Unit working in conjunction with Manchester Metropolitan University and later with the Manchester Women’s Design Group. The Manchester Women’s Design Group was established by the Women’s Design Service in 2007 and consists of volunteers who work to ensure that built environment specialists take into account the needs and concerns of women.
The key aims of the GAP Unit are to increase awareness of gender issues and to promote gender equality through the production of case studies, training, advocacy, resource packs and information dissemination activities. The GAP Unit is currently in the process of becoming a Community Interest Company and is working with a number of organisations including Manchester City Council to promote gender issues within spatial planning.
8 volunteers from the Manchester Women’s Design Group are currently conducting research into the following areas to assess gender related issues:
- Play areas, parks, squares, other public open spaces
- Design of streets and car parking
- Public toilets
- Workspaces including offices and factories
- Design of homes including care homes, refuges and sheltered housing
- Public transport and cycle provision
- Shopping and leisure facilities
- Community facilities, including health centres, schools, nurseries
The draft findings will be subject to further input from Planning Aid experts and local community organisations through a consultation process. A final “checklist” of good practice will be disseminated widely to public sector bodies and third sector organisations to encourage the consideration of gender issues when producing public documentation relating to the built environment.
It is anticipated that the completion of the document will coincide with the start of Manchester City Council’s Women’s Core Strategy consultation process due to begin in 2009 and will help to shape the Council’s Gender Impact Evaluation sheet. The Manchester Women’s Design Group will also be working with the Council’s Planning Policy Team on International Women’s Day in 2009.
The work being undertaken in Manchester recognises that more needs to be done to encourage women to actively contribute to the development of their built environment.
I leave with a reference to a thought provoking Guardian article discovered by a colleague that I believe deserves highlighting.