Some plan making activities will be restricted, however other plan making activities can continue – they will however require a different approach. Below we summarise activities you will and won’t be able to continue to do, as well as some tools you may find useful for this period to help you work differently.

What can we still do?

Meet with your plan making group (online only)

Plan making is collaborative so you will need to consider how you continue to meet as a plan making group given you cannot meet in person. There are plenty of online conferencing services such as Skype that you can use for meetings. We list some useful tools further below.

Policy writing and evidence gathering

Policy writing and most evidence gathering for a neighbourhood plan is desk-based, so it is possible to work on these activities from home. You can share your work and findings with your group using the online tools below to help you to continue to move forward. However, where there are evidence gaps, or you feel more evidence is required, you may need to gather your own evidence. This usually requires you to go outside.

Given that we cannot leave home for non-essential activities, you will not be able to go out to gather evidence. So some evidence gathering activities may have to wait. However, you could consider doing some of this online by using tools such as Google Street View.

AECOM will continue to work on technical support packages, though they may contact you to notify you of any changes to the way they will be working. If you are working with a consultant, ask them if they will be able to continue working remotely.

Community engagement

Public engagement cannot be done in person during this period, but you may want to consider what consultation and engagement can be conducted online, including surveys and questionnaires. It is important, however, not to forget those people who do not have internet access – you can for example, still use phone. You can also find some survey tools listed below.

In the updated planning guidance MHCLG have set out some guidance on public consultation in the context of social distancing.

What won’t we be able to do?

Meeting people in person

Any activity that would require people to meet in person, or to leave the house for anything other than the essential activities listed by Government. For example, workshops, public presentations, meetings in person (online meetings are fine), community walkabouts, leaflet drops.

Tools

Below are a few digital tools that you may find useful while you are social distancing. It is by no means exhaustive.

Meetings and communicating

Skype – video conferencing for phones and computers.
Zoom – video conferencing that gives you the ability to see everyone in the meeting at the same time.
WhatsApp – mobile phone based text messaging, with a video call function for up to four phones.

Surveys and Questionnaires

Survey Monkey – online survey tool with both free and paid features.
Type Form – similar to Survey Monkey.

Other tools

Google documents is free for all users with a Google account and you can work on documents (word/spreadsheets/photos) collaboratively whilst on different computers in different places.

Costs

Many of these tools can be used for free of charge, however some require subscription fees. Locality can fund subscriptions through grant when the grant programme reopens.

Anything else worth considering?

As a plan making group, meet online and consider what modifications you should make to your project plan.

If you had already scheduled physical events you should let people know that these have been postponed until further notice. If you have moved activities online let people know how they can take part. Consider those who do not have internet access or are not as tech-savvy as you.

Take care of yourselves and remember to continue to refer to government guidance and instruction as it is liable to change. Your health and the health of those in your communities is more important than anything else.