Deciding to put together a new Town Plan
Bruton Town Council had been aware of the need for either a Neighbourhood Plan or a new Town Plan for a number of years. In January 2016 the Council allocated £2,000 from its 2016-17 budget to develop a Town Plan. On the advice of South Somerset District Council, the Town Council decided to work with Bruton Community Partnership and the Bruton Chamber of Commerce to draw up the Plan, with the Council taking the lead. Councillor James Hood volunteered to chair a Steering Group.
The Town Plan Steering Group
The contents of the Town Plan reflect the views and aspirations of residents, businesses and the three partner organisations. The job of the Steering Group was to get the work done and ensure that the Plan was produced to the quality, cost and timescale expected. Members of the group were:
- Councillor James Hood (chair)
- Councillor Mike Brownlow
- Councillor Ewan Jones
- David Weston (secretary of Bruton Community Partnership and deputy chair)
- Matt Rawlingson-Plant (Bruton Community Partnership)
- Amanda Riley Pickthall (Bruton Chamber of Commerce)
- Pat Blanpain-Forder (Bruton Chamber of Commerce)
- Alice Lowry (administrative support)
The steering group met 30 times between March 2016 and June 2017. You can read notes from all the meetings and also see the Terms of Reference for the group by following this link Steering group documents. Where the word ‘we’ is used on this page it refers to the steering group.
Planning for the Plan
The steering group was advised by other Councils that it took between 15 and 18 months to put together a town plan. The group decided to aim for publication in June 2017. Our first task was to put together a detailed plan of the steps we needed to take to ensure we met our timescale. To do this we took advice from a number of other Councils (Martock, South Petherton, Frome), from South Somerset District Council, and closer to home from Malcolm Hord (who did a lot of the work for the 2005 report Bruton the Way Forward Report and Recommendations) and from Annette Pitman (who led the work on the 2006 Bruton the Way Forward Action Plan).
Following the advice we had been given the steering group took several decisions about our overall approach to developing the Plan:
- We were clear that to do a good job we needed to find and use the knowledge and experience of others. We wanted to build on previous Bruton Town Plans rather than re-invent the wheel, so we sought out people who had been involved in previous plans so as to learn from them. We approached other towns, and we looked for and found experts in Bruton who could assist us with particular aspects (such as survey design).
- We decided to take a rigorous approach to our evidence. The Town Council had earlier decided to produce a Town Plan rather than a Neighbourhood Plan (follow the link to find out more about what a Neighbourhood Plan is). The group considered it possible that the town might wish to make a Neighbourhood Plan at a later date, so we decided to adopt the same evidential rigour for our Plan as would be used in a Neighbourhood Plan. To do this we took detailed advice from Frome and Martock Town Councils about what we needed to do.
- We decided to use a marketing approach. We heard that one of the biggest challenges in putting a Town Plan together is getting engagement from local residents. Martock succeeded in doing this by having armies of volunteers knocking on doors. We thought it unlikely that we would find the resources to do this. Instead we put a lot of time into developing strong messages and graphic images, and made use of local and social media to get these messages across. We wrote a detailed marketing and publicity plan to make sure that the right messages got across at the right time.
- We decided to use electronic methods in parallel with paper. Our suspicion was that many younger Brutonians would respond better to electronic communication, but that there would still be large numbers of people who preferred paper documents. So we designed an online survey and distributed a paper survey, and we have published the Plan online and distributed hard copies.
- Transparency. It proved very hard to get firm information about all the previous surveys that had taken place in the Town. We thought and think it important that there is a comprehensive record of the work that we have undertaken on behalf of residents, so that anyone who wants to can see what we did, why we did it, and why what’s in the Plan is in the Plan. The information on these pages is that record.
Many other parish councils have put together plans, and their experience has shown that there is a standard approach which works well. We decided not to reinvent the wheel. The stages, which we followed more or less in order, were:
Ownership and awareness of the Plan
This has been described above: it’s important that organisations such as the Town Council and the Chamber of Commerce agree the need for a Plan, and the approach to be used. It is also important that residents, businesses, and significant organisations in the Town know what is being done.
We used (and continued to use) the Town and the Town Council website for publicity, published articles in the Dove and the Western Gazette, and visited the schools, the surgery as well as the two largest businesses in the Parish (Hauser and Wirth and Wyke Farm).
We tracked down almost all the surveys and all the Bruton Plans written since 1996. (This was not easy to do. One of the reasons we have decided to keep detailed records of the work we did is so that others do not have the difficulties we had). Having done this some of us read them, and extracted the key messages. We did this so as to see what issues had remained constant over time, and also to see how Bruton had changed. Looking at previous surveys also allowed us to ask some of the same questions, to see if the answers given had changed over time. You can read more about the previous work here.
We analysed information from the 2011 census. This gave us a clear picture of who was living in Bruton at that time, their ages, gender, numbers of children, numbers of households with cars, the populations of different parts of Bruton and so on. (This information has not been written up (June 2017) but may yet be). We used the information to help us analyse our survey results: as an example we were able to see which age groups had responded to the survey in larger numbers than might have been predicted given their numbers in the population and vice versa.
Finally we collected and looked at a range of background information about Bruton, such as the Conservation Area Appraisal, and other information on South Somerset District Council’s website.
Getting a feel for what the issues are
We used the Packhorse Fair 2016 as the first public consultation exercise. Over 200 people visited the Town Plan stand at the Fair, many leaving comments about what their concerns were. We used this information to shape the questions that we later asked in the Town Plan survey. You can read more about what people said at the Fair (and at the later public events) in a more detailed write-up on this page.
The Town Plan survey
Of all the things that the steering group did, it was designing, distributing and analysing the survey that took the most time. In order to get it right we looked at previous survey and surveys carried out elsewhere, reviewed good practice guidance and consulted a local expert. We checked that the Town Council and the Bruton Community Partnership were in agreement with the questions we were asking, and tested the survey with six willing volunteers before launching it on the Bruton public in October 2016.
Over 30% of households responded to the survey. This was a similar response to the 1996 Bruton survey: we understand that it is a high figure when compared with that of some other towns.
The survey results were analysed by councillors James Hood and Ewan Jones, and written up by councillor James Hood. More information about how the survey was written and distributed and its results can be found in separate pages here.
The survey results were published on this website and some of the detail shared at five Town Plan Live events in March 2017.
The business survey
The view of the steering group was that the interests of businesses and those of residents were not necessarily the same, but that it was going to be important to hear both. The Chamber of Commerce therefore organised an electronic survey of local businesses. The results of the survey have informed the Chamber’s own Plan as well as this Plan.
Ensuring all views are heard
We were told that the experience of other councils had been that two age groups tend not to respond to surveys and similar consultation exercises to the extent that other groups do: younger people and older people. Rather than waiting to see whether this turned out to be the case in Bruton too, we decided to plan on the basis that the same thing would happen here.
We therefore talked to Bruton schools and arranged for some of their pupils to complete the survey. For a number of reasons (chiefly other pressures on the schools) this work did not take place as we had planned. It did turn out that fewer younger people completed our survey than older age groups, and so our Plan is less representative than it might be of younger people’s interests and issues. This is a lack. (However both Sexeys School’s and Bruton School for Girl’s pupils contributed directly and helpfully to our proposals for Jubilee Park).
In order to address the likely under-representation of older people we consulted the Health Coaches at Bruton Surgery. They in turn suggested that we have a session at an Eastfield coffee morning where members of the steering group were to help older people complete the survey. We set this session up, but because of a communication failure when we got there we discovered that they had all gone to Shepton Mallet for fish and chips instead. (Their time may well have been better spent there, because as it turned out older people were not under-represented in our Town Plan survey).
Have we missed anything? (We had…benchmarking)
Frome Town Council kindly loaned some of Jane Llewellyn’s time to the steering group. (Jane is their Planning Officer, and she had played a key role in putting Frome’s widely admired Neighbourhood Plan together). We asked her to review our plans and the work we had done to date, and identify any gaps.
Jane reviewed our plan. Her view was that our survey plans and background research were thorough, but she pointed out that surveys were not the only available source of information. Frome Town Council had found it useful to compare Frome with other similar towns: a process known as benchmarking. She put us in touch with the company Frome had used. In early 2017 we carried out parking, footfall, business and shopper surveys and these were compared with results from other small regional towns. You can read the outcome here.
Turning our information into a plan
The steering group considered all the information we had collected, and drafted a list of possible actions to include in the Plan. The list of actions was circulated to the Town Council, Bruton Community Partnership and Bruton Chamber of Commerce. The final list was adopted by the Council in April 2017.
The steering group then put together two separate documents: the Draft Text of the final Plan, i.e. what was to be in it, and a Design Brief for the Plan, i.e. what the Plan should look like, how many pages, its size and so on. The guiding principle for both, as set out in the Design Brief, was that:
Bruton residents are the prime audience for the document. Readability, accessibility and visual attractiveness are key. This should be a document that people want to pick up and read, and when they do it should be an easy read.
The Design Brief and Draft Text were adopted by the three partner organisations in May 2017. The document was designed and set out by Mark Pickthall, and printed by Wincanton Print.
The Plan was launched on 29 June 2017, and the hard copy distributed to all households in the Parish on the weekend of 1 July 2017.
What it cost
It cost just under £4,000 to produce the Town Plan. Most of the cost was for printing of the survey, its flyer and the Plan itself. We also had high quality display materials designed and printed for our Town Plan Live events. Benchmarking cost us just under £400. The remainder of the cost was for design of the hard copy Plans, room hire and distribution of the survey flyer.
We are extremely grateful to Mark Pickthall who gave most of his design and photography services for free, and also to the many other people and organisations who contributed their time and expertise free of charge.
South Somerset District Council kindly made a Community Grant of £1,000 towards the Plan. The remainder of the cost was met by Bruton Town Council.