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Strong Communities  - Report Summary

Meeting the Social Infrastructure Needs of New Communities - Report Summary

Voluntary and community sector infrastructure organisations in the Milton Keynes & South Midlands growth area – including Voluntary and Community Action South Bedfordshire – have recently published important research on the social infrastructure needs of new communities.  Their report – Strong Communities – includes proposals for planning, implementing and resourcing the delivery of social infrastructure in the region’s six growth areas.

The research has been commissioned by the Social Infrastructure Group of the EQOL sub group of the Milton Keynes & South Midlands Inter-regional Board.  It aims to examine the scope and need for investment in social infrastructure in the growth areas, which are expecting over 140,000 new dwellings in the period 2001-2021.  A variety of Local Delivery Vehicles are operating in the area to deliver this growth and the context for and types of new development also vary.  Social infrastructure is mentioned as an important requirement in the sub regional strategy.

Community Renewal has undertaken the work and used a variety of methods including a survey and consultative workshops with voluntary and community organisations, literature research, fieldwork and interviews.  The work was completed between March and June 2006.

A range of government documents and research findings are examined to explore what is meant by social infrastructure and its importance.  These findings point to the importance of investing in a range of activities and organisations in order to build community capacity and so lead to strong communities, which in turn are an important aspect of sustainable communities.  It is acknowledged that other themes such as green infrastructure, cultural, community safety and health and social care can all contribute to and benefit from investment in social infrastructure.  This is especially relevant in communities created by or affected by new development. Strong communities are defined as Active – Organised – Participative – Accepting – Connected - Fair.

Social infrastructure is defined as Building strong communities through the continuing development and delivery of activities, resources and support to strengthen the skills and confidence of people and community groups to enable them to take effective action and leading roles.  It is made up of a number of components; community development work; a community base; a representative community or residents group; grants for start up and development of community and voluntary organisations; community learning/leadership development; and volunteer development.

Six important outcomes of investment in social infrastructure are identified and proposals made for the development of action research, monitoring and evaluation to measure and learn from the investment made.  Based on the field work and other research ten guiding principles are also proposed for social infrastructure development and delivery.

An approach to planning is set out which attempts to provide tools for use at strategic and more local levels.  An Investment Model is described which enables the calculation of investment in a ‘typical’ new development over a six stage/year period taking account of the variations in mix and scale of social infrastructure needed at different times.  This is used to calculate a total investment requirement for the sub region over the period 2006 - 2021, which amounts to £129m.  This equates to approximately £700 per new dwelling.  It is proposed that this investment is made by a mixture of developer contributions (minimum 75 %) with the balance from public funds.  In addition developers would be required to provide an initial community base and site for a long-term community facility and associated costs.  The adoption of a ‘tariff’ approach to funding, as has been developed in Milton Keynes, is recommended for wider adoption in the sub region.

A planning and delivery system is set out which features the focusing of voluntary and community sector involvement in social infrastructure through new partnerships and through new Social Infrastructure Managers relating to each Local Delivery Vehicle and the creation of a Social Infrastructure Impact Assessment as the focus for assessing the needs for social infrastructure investment on a development by development basis.

The results of a survey of voluntary and community organisations and five consultative workshops are analysed and found to show that awareness of the growth area agenda and plans is mixed with many organisations having only a general appreciation of plans and the possible impact on their organisation (i.e. they expect a general increase in demand).  Some are beginning to consider new ways of providing services.  The options for delivering the various aspects of the social infrastructure package are examined.

As well as provision of social infrastructure at a local level, it is proposed to fund the provision of a range of activity at sub regional level through a Sub Regional Social Infrastructure Fund.  This will fund the costs of: Social Infrastructure Managers and the running of the Social Infrastructure Partnerships; training and networking for staff involved in social infrastructure provision; an action research, monitoring and evaluation programme; specialist advice (e.g. for social enterprise/asset development); and ‘front end’ costs of community development and associated costs prior to commencement of a development.

A number of recommendations are made to various organisations and groups that have strategic responsibility for implementing growth in order to move forward the proposals in the Plan.

The Plan is the result of a commission by the Milton Keynes & South Midlands (MKSM) Social Infrastructure Group, established by the Councils of Voluntary Service (CVS) and other local voluntary and community sector (VCS) infrastructure organisations from across the sub region:

  • Buckinghamshire Community Action
  • Council of Voluntary Service Northampton & County
  • Community & Voluntary Service Mid and North Bedfordshire
  • Milton Keynes Council of Voluntary Organisations
  • Vale Volunteers - Aylesbury & District
  • Voluntary Action Luton
  • Voluntary and Community Action South Bedfordshire

The Group is recognised as a working group of the Inter Regional Board’s Environment and Quality of Life sub group.  Funding for the work has come from the Government’s Regional Office for the East of England under the ChangeUp Programme (which is investing in the development of the supporting infrastructure for the Voluntary and Community Sector).

The Plan is also a contribution to the wider debate about the provision of infrastructure for growth. It recognises that ongoing discussions within the MKSM Inter–regional Board, with Local Delivery Vehicles, Local Planning Authorities, Local Strategic Partnerships and other partners may lead to changes in how the Sub-regional Strategy is implemented.  The Plan will need to reflect any such changes and may therefore be updated from time to time.


Cover of the report Strong Communities



Voluntary and Community Action, Bossard House, West Street, Leighton Buzzard, LU7 1DA
Tel: 01525 850559, Fax: 01525 376281, mail@action-centralbeds.org.uk