Amanda Ramsay is in the process of analysing her empirical data and drafting the chapters of her dissertation.
Local government and the planning system were significantly overhauled by the Localism Act (2011). However, both academics and parliamentarians have expressed concerns about devolving decision-making powers, particularly to a neighbourhood scale devoid of conventional democratic mechanisms (Layard, 2012).
Key questions surround this shift towards localism, whether this will in fact lead to active citizenship and community empowerment, as promised by the government through initiatives, such as neighbourhood planning; a new concept in the UK, which to its supporters is seen as a radical rediscovering of the social purpose of planning, but to its detractors, as a model that favours middle class communities who are more likely to engage with it.
Despite much talk of the advent of the Big Society, the Localism Act (2011) has been criticised for being an ineffectual top-down policy intervention without the necessary funding or movement of powers to be useful in encouraging the form of localism outlined by Putnam in his theory of social capital (1995; 2000; 2006). This study of neighbourhood planning, in the Knowle West area of south Bristol, examines the relationship between social capital and community empowerment and the use of digital engagement tools for community development.
More specifically the research asks: what can the concept of social capital tell us about planning under localism, in relation to Knowle West Future (KWF), a local neighbourhood planning forum?