Our new 1:1 peer support has really taken off. In the last month I’ve had 16 requests and over half of those have already been matched with a peer. Compare that to the old programme which only had 10 matches a year. Is this an indication that local planners are still cracking on with core strategy preparation despite the changes proposed in the Devolution and Localism Bill? Or perhaps they’re not sure how to proceed and so they’re searching for answers amidst all of the uncertainty…
1:1 peer support is for planning managers. We’ve had interest from assistant director to team leader level. An experienced (IDeA accredited) planning peer is matched with a planning manager to discuss the manager’s challenges. We put them together based on the issues the manager wants to discuss and the similarities between their authorities. This support is a new offer but essentially it’s our old Spatial Planning Peer (SPP) offer recycled. We had some feedback from Government Offices and CLG about the SPP offer and so we made a few improvements with help from the peers.
The planning peers who do 1:1 peer support came along to a networking day in London in late March. On the whole, they welcomed the proposed changes and felt that we were getting rid of some of the unnecessary process and report writing. That’s because we focussed in on what the ‘client’ wanted. LPA managers continually told us in evaluation interviews that the discussions with their peer were the most useful part of the support. So we’ve asked that peers spend more time actually talking with the peer and sharing their experiences than writing a report.
Many of the heads of service and LDF managers that have requested support are echoing the same issues across the country:
- How do we progress the core strategy with massively reduced resources?
- Do we have a sufficient/proportionate evidence base?
- What level of detail is required in the core strategy and how do we assess options?
- How do we deliver the core strategy when committed funding from government may make some of it difficult/impossible to deliver?
- How do we raise the profile of the core strategy corporately?
The peers won’t have a definitive answer for everything. But they aren’t supposed to. They are a ‘bottom up’ approach to improvement. They give valuable experience and share the lessons they’ve learned managing a planning service or bringing a core strategy through to adoption.
We’ll evaluate this programme to see the actions coming out of the 1:1 support. But as we saw from the SPP programme, the technical plan making messages from the peers are likely to be similar to those published in guidance like the CLG plan making manual and PAS support packages. The unique value of the peers is that they provide free and non-judgemental external perspectives and give some reassurance that managers are on the right track.