Community Planning offers a new and exciting opportunity to improve the quality of the life of our citizens.
Here in the North West, there is a long tradition of collaboration and partnership working and that should be the cornerstone of our approach to community planning in the future.
Initiatives, such as the Local Strategic Partnership (LSPs), Investing for Health (IFH), Rural Development (RAPID) and Community Safety Partnerships (CSPs) show what can be achieved by working together; when local stakeholders such as businesses, farmers, voluntary bodies, community groups work with statutory partners like the Council, health, education, enterprise development agencies in an informal environment for the common good and bring about tangible outcomes and relationship working.
These partnerships helped identify opportunities to attract new investment, stimulate job creation and support community infrastructure based on a mutual respect for each other and a shared agenda.
Examples such as the redevelopment of Dove Gardens, the building of the Claudy Resource Centre, the promotion of indigenous business programmes and the diversification initiatives are all excellent examples of what can be achieved by being examples of the results of these partnerships.
Community planning will add a structured framework to the process to make it more meaningful and productive.
What we have learned from experience and evaluation of previous partnerships is the need to avoid the sort of ‘silo’ mentality which has stifled progress in the past. We need to see how the various themes are interrelated and look for common outcomes.
The three themes identified as priorities- Economic, Social and Environmental wellbeing- are interdependent. If addressed in a single process, it will bring about the sustainable change that will make a real difference.
In order to create economic growth, it is acknowledged that we need a local population that is both physically and emotionally well.
The health of the population is itself a major resource. However, health and social care bodies also have an important role to play in creating economic wellbeing of the region. As a major employer in the North West, the Public Health Agency is critical to the economic stability of the region.
There are major opportunities for health and social care providers to work much closer with the university and for local entrepreneurs to examine the opportunities for innovation and product development to address factors causing poor health, or which can support people living with long-term debilitating conditions.
Through developing solutions, we can directly contribute to high value job creation and economic growth.
It is important that we sustain both our natural and built environment as assets to contributing to our social wellbeing.
The natural environment is the ideal setting to promote physical activity and healthy weight, emotional wellbeing and general health such as reducing risks from coronary heart disease.
The environment also contributes to the management and improvement of air quality which can impact on respiratory diseases such as asthma.
The built environment can also contribute to providing affordable housing, workplaces and centres for learning that are fit for purpose, safe and energy efficient.
The natural environment as a whole is critical to creating an atmosphere of wellbeing and how we use our rivers, walkways, buildings and roads it vital to generating economic prosperity as much as wellbeing.
In conclusion, we need to truly engage with community planning with the energy and enthusiasm with which we have addressed collaboration in the past. The difference this time is that we will have the strategic framework to make things happen and, more importantly, sustain them into the future. This can only be achieved with real partnership, which as we all know requires hard work, and shared ownership between local people, businesses, and statutory partners. This has been our trademark in the past and it is one which we would do well to bring into the future.