Giving back to our neighbours

Katherine Pelton is the Senior Planning Policy Officer at LLDC
Just recently, we announced the successful bids from the 2020 Neighbourhood Priorities Fund. In total there were 25 projects which were allocated just over £1.8million of funding. 
They are all wonderful projects which will support the local community in a range of ways, from accessible camping equipment for Brownies and Guides to a social hub for local residents aged 65+.
The Neighbourhood Priorities Fund (NPF) comes from LLDC’s Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) , where 15% of this income is spent in consultation with the local community with the aim of mitigating the impact of development. As other planning authorities do, we charge CIL on new developments and then spend it on improving local infrastructure in order to support changing needs as growth takes place. 
Being both a local planning authority and a developer, setting up the Neighbourhood Priorities Fund has not been straight forward. However, it has created opportunities for us as an organisation to support communities in the area not only through funding but also through engagement throughout the NPF process.  This engagement is important as anyone within the LLDC area is eligible to apply if they have a project they want to deliver which will benefit the community. 
The LLDC’s Park Panel, made up of representatives from local community groups, has oversight of the process. The Panel feeds in to decision making through setting out which projects would have a high, medium or low benefit to their communities. The local make up of the Park Panel is an important sense check which helps us to understand which projects will have a truly beneficial impact, as are their strong connections with the local community which helps us spread the word about the Fund.  
2020 was the third consecutive year we had run a bidding round and it has been amazing to see how interest has continued to grow, doubling since 2018. It is always fascinating to hear from such varied local organisations, discussing their activities and potential projects that could benefit from this funding, and we always wait with anticipation as the final bids come through. Unfortunately not all bids are successful, and in these cases we try to work with applicants, providing feedback from the process, to help them to further develop their proposals for the next bidding round.
The Covid 19 pandemic, as with most other things in life, impacted both the progress of projects that had received funding in 2019 and our ability to run the 2020 bidding round.  Support from the LLDC’s Community and Business Engagement team has been invaluable in the face of these challenges. The team’s networks and local knowledge have been crucial in our work with prospective bidders, enabling us to better advise them in how to meet the governance criteria, introducing them to other organisations that might help them in their work, and providing support as their projects are delivered. Projects such as Ride-Side-by-Side, a sociable cycle service for people with mobility issues, were unable to function in the way they had originally proposed. Working with colleagues in the Community and Business Engagement team, we were able to support them in adapting their projects to instead deliver food, medical supplies and tests to the more vulnerable members of the community who were shielding during the pandemic. 
While we were unable to run our face to face workshops and meetings with bidders – which we have really missed – there have been upsides to moving the process online. One of the benefits of has been that for some applicants, it has been easier to fit into their working days. While we hope we will soon be able to do in person meetings again, we are glad to have learnt about how we can be more flexible and accessible in supporting bidders.
One of the most enjoyable parts of the bidding rounds is being able to discuss these creative and enterprising projects with local people who want to do good for their community. We have learnt that newer, smaller community groups are more likely to bid for smaller amounts, but they are by no means less significant. These ideas are deeply rooted in the community and can have a hugely beneficial impact on those who need it the most.
Every year we learn more lessons from this process, and key to that is the feedback we receive from the local community - both good and bad - which we try to incorporate into the process for the following year. The 2020 bidding round is telling in that we saw unprecedented levels of interest, and (thankfully) patience from both bidders and staff in managing the volume of applications during a particularly difficult year. We also received a number of requests to set up a dedicated website so keep an eye out for that.
Now that these bids have been awarded, we are preparing the Neighbourhood Priorities Fund for future years. This will be reliant on CIL income, and so for every year we receive it, we will give back to our community-minded neighbours. While the pandemic has thrown our timetable this time, we hope to return to launching the fund in June, with decisions in place for September.
We will continue to look at finding new ways to promote and engage communities about the Fund in future rounds. In the meantime, you can look at the LLDC’s CIL webpage or have a look through our social media and news pages.