The concept of a ‘community’ was evident in the work of the 19th century German sociologist Ferdinand Toennies, who distinguished between ‘ideal’ social groupings (which were more intimate), with the isolated, impersonal and fragmented form. Eight years later, Ebenezer Howard, the founder of the Garden City movement, produced various concepts, which highlighted the benefits of community life away from the hustle and bustle of the towns i.e. The Garden City, which is where each individual knows each other and cooperates.
UK legislation from 1947 explained that social welfare was important, but land-use matters should be priority. However, discretion was built into the planning system at this time and played an important role (Cullingworth & Nadin, 2006). Unfortunately, at this time, plans were withheld from the public in their early stages.
The 1960s saw the assimilation of communities migrating from commonwealth countries (UWE, 2010), which caused discrimination and community unrest throughout the UK and, consequently, a burden on the planning system. The 1968 Act required local authorities to undertake public participation exercises in the marking of local plans, which were optional up until the 1990s. This was reinforced with the 1969 Skeffington Report, which aimed to involve the public during the formative stages in the making of development plans and improve information and education available to the public. Unfortunately, the Skeffington report was not as successful as hoped for, as many believed it slowed down the planning process too much and the public were often disinterested.
Closer to the present, concern over local communities became more apparent following devolution in the UK after 1997, when New Labour came into power. This concern was embraced with open arms, following the neo-liberal Thatcherist government, which focused mainly on land-use and the John Major period, which caused apathy between planners and communities. An example, of the private sector and development industry being favoured over local priorities was when the North Southwark local plan was removed in the 1980s for fear of too much local discretion (UWE, 2010). However, the neo-liberal period highlighted that the public are ‘customers’ and customer-service is important, as it aids public participation.
In the last decade especially, there has been an emphasis on providing for local communities and coordinating activities (in the public, private and voluntary sectors) to benefit local people, but also increasing the speed and efficiency of the system. Some say a shift from the ‘executive’ to the ‘enabling’ has occurred (Curry, 2001). This was reflected in the ‘community strategies’ of the 2000 Local Government Act and the ‘Statement of Community Involvement’ (SCI) of the 2004 Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act (Cullingworth & Nadin, 2006), which became an important part of the new Local Development Frameworks (LDF). There was also a move in 2006 to change the name of the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM) to the ‘Department for Communities and Local Government, which shows a commitment to involving communities (UWE, 2010).
The idea of a ‘community’ implies that there are certain prerequisites, where all people are of the same ‘kind’, with very similar ideas, similar backgrounds, do not have outward mobility and are influenced by their peers. This does not occur in the real world and is not always an ideal situation. If this does occur then it can isolate neighbours who are ‘different’, but it can also exhibit social closeness (McDowell, 1999) Therefore a community is not always an ideal term when we analyse local areas.
Instead, the word neighbours was mentioned above, which highlights the fact that most areas are not communities, they are places where neighbours live – ‘a neighbourhood’. A neighbourhood is very different and can be described as a heterogeneous place where people have more choices and often make decisions based on their past and present circumstances.