Whose knowledge matters? Invitation to a workshop on citizen contributions to spatial planning

Thursday, January 31, 2019 - 18:00 to 20:00
Anthony Burgess Foundation, Engine House Chorlton Mill 3 Cambridge Street, Manchester, M1 5BY

As community groups, campaigners and concerned citizens we have a lot to say about the plans that councils and developers have for where we live and work. But how good are the makers of plans, proposals and consultations at listening to, and hearing our voices and making effective use of the particular knowledge and experience that we can contribute?

In 2016, the Greater Manchester Combined Authority published a draft of its Greater Manchester Spatial Framework. This was followed by a consultation which revealed the great dissatisfaction with both the content of the plan and the process of the consultation. demonstrated the complexity and strength of feeling from communities across Greater Manchester about their own local areas and the future of the region more widely. There is now widespread recognition that the consultation process did not enable debate, nor provide a way to acknowledge and make us of the rich diversity of knowledge from those living across Greater Manchester. There is to be what the Mayor calls a “radical rewrite”: it is due to be discussed by the Combined Authority in January and if agreed there will follow a 3 month consultation.

However, the Spatial Framework is not the only example of plans that community groups and individuals have responded to. Most planning goes on at the local level, conducted by the 10 local councils of Greater Manchester. Experiences of engaging with these plans, proposals and consultations varies.

This workshop will help us all to share and review our experiences of engaging with planners and officials, whether at neighbourhood, district or Greater Manchester level. Your experience might be over plans for existing green spaces, for the redevelopment of sites, or infrastructure proposals such as new roads or cycleways. You might be most concerned about the green belt, former industrial sites, or other sites that are slated for demolition and rebuilding, maybe with a new function. Whichever it is, your experience is worth sharing.

The Whose Knowledge Matters three year research project is concerned with the inequalities in the ways knowledge is valued and used by those in positions of power and influence. A particular focus is on the often sidelined local community-based knowledge of local citizens, particularly in relation to planning decisions. To understand the ways this happens means trying to understand what happens from both outside and from inside “the system” of government, planning and decision-making investigating this in two parts:

Firstly, over the last year, we have undertaken 12 interviews with strategic planners and officials across Greater Manchester. Our aim has been to understand the changing conditions in which this planning takes place and the nature of the policy-making process, with a particular focus on how different kinds of evidence, knowledge and expertise are, or are not, included in spatial planning. The interviews have taken place with officials in each Greater Manchester Authority and with representatives of the Combined Authority.

Secondly, how does it look from the outside? To help us understand this we want to mirror the above interviews by asking local citizens and campaigners about the extent to which local expertise is valued and is allowed to influence decisions. How does the process of consultation allow local groups to share their expertise and knowledge? Outside formal consultations, how well is local knowledge appreciated and used to improve plans, proposals and decisions? What sorts of expertise are valued, obscured or excluded?

Values: why might you want to take part?

We are don't just want to be “tourist researchers”, asking local campaigners questions and then moving on. Instead we want the work we do to make a contribution to the campaigning effectiveness of local groups. The main way we intend to do this is through conversations, which aim to help build a better understanding of how power and knowledge work together in local government planning, and so what can be done to work around, against or with those in positions of power. We will also be producing an accessible report on the work, and participants will have a chance to comment on this before it is made widely available. We anticipate that it will make recommendations to councils about how to improve the way they make use of local knowledge to help make better plans and decisions. Moreover, by coming to the workshop, participants will meet others involved in campaigns and projects about planning questions, and that is nearly always valuable for everyone. Participation in the workshop could help participants when it comes to responding to consultations, including that on the GM Spatial Framework.

Our research questions

1. 1. To what extent do local government consultation processes allow local expertise to influence plans and decisions?

In particular we are interested in understanding if the processes of consultation allow and help local groups to share their expertise and knowledge. We also want to find out what expertise is valued, and what is obscured or excluded through the consultation process.

2. What are the understandings and visions of local groups about the characteristics of desirable plans for their area and the wider city region?

We are interested in how groups can develop and express their local spatial knowledge and ideas, and put them together in responding to consultations – and what kind of support might help them. We'd also like to know about the detail, so, for instance, what are the physical and social elements in these ideas and visions? How much agreement is there on these ideas? And of particular interest, how do these ideas and visions differ from those of local government leaders and planners, for example, as expressed in the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework and in local plans?

Workshop structure and content

The workshop will take the form of a group discussion in response to key questions agreed by the Knowledge Matters team. This will be recorded and subsequently transcribed. A key element will be facilitated discussion about participants' experience of engaging with plans, proposals and consultations.


The invitation is extended to groups and individuals with past or present involvement in planning issues, including existing groups that have campaigned on GMSF and other spatial / planning issues (especially for the “new” green spaces), and on other plans and proposals, for example city centre developments and infrastructure. We would really like to get representation from a diverse range of local authority areas.

How to apply and register

Booking is necessary. Please book a place by sending an email to mark.burton@poptel.org

Confidentiality and use of information

Full details will be given on how information will be stored, managed and used by the research team. We will comply with best practice and legal requirements. In any publications arising from the workshops, participants will not be identifiable (except where they have given us specific permission to attribute views and comments to them).

Mark H Burton Steady State Manchester Independent Research Consultant to Sheffield University “Whose Knowledge Matters” project