The Steep Village Design Statement (VDS) had been published and adopted by Steep Parish Council and East Hampshire District Council in 2001. This described the village and its setting, its key features and activities and set out design guidelines together with actions and proposals for the future. That process had been based on extensive public consultation. However, it is now more than 10 years since its publication; the South Downs National Park has been established and the village's population has continued to change, with many new residents moving into the area during this period.
More recently, encouragement was given by Government and the Local Authorities to Parishes to prepare Parish Plans, which are intended to present a wider view of the village and its community, incorporating updated Design Guidance and the undertaking of a Landscape Appraisal. With this encouragement, in 2009, Steep Parish Council requested volunteers to come forward to undertake the work and the Steering Group was formed. Parish Plans only have value where they reflect the views of as wide a cross section of the community as possible. The Steep team has gone to considerable lengths to gather opinion as widely as possible and to test its conclusions with the community at each stage of the process.
The starting point for the work, to involve as much of the community as possible, was to hold a series of " conversations", at different locations throughout the parish to identify the potential issues and themes. Nine of these small group discussions in individual homes were held and were invaluable in setting the initial agenda for the team’s work.
The most important consultation process of all was the Parish Survey carried out in July, 2011. A substantial questionnaire (42 questions) was circulated to all households, together with a smaller one for businesses, and special web-based surveys for Steep Primary School and Bedales. The surveys allowed for individual as well as household responses and contained both “tick-box” questions with more open “write-in” ones. As described in the Parish Plan Report, a good response enabled us to refine the focus of the plan; to make a reasonable assessment of the state of the parish; and to start to develop a list of priorities for action. Click here for the detailed statistical results, (note that this is an Excel speadsheet), here for the complete list of text comments and here for the summary results and how they were analysed.
In addition to seeking the views of individual households, the Group also carried out systematic discussions with the main institutional bodies in the parish. These organisations (which include the three schools, the church, the farming community, charities and the societies who operate in Steep) need to be considered when talking about the future to ensure that the conditions which are important to their success are understood and – as far as possible – responded to.
Four well-attended exhibitions were held in Steep Village Hall in March and November 2010 and April and November 2011. These displayed a range of posters about the progress of the plan work and the landscape assessment. They invited feedback and comment and encouraged participants to meet and talk about Steep. They were also an opportunity to involve additional volunteers in support of the work. A feedback summary from the November 2011 exhibition is available here.
Regular updates were included in the Steep and Stroud Parish Newsletter on progress, together with an invitation to comment. This is a very important communication channel in the area and is delivered to every home – reaching a much wider audience than any other medium. Major inserts on the plan were included from time to time and enabled the team to test, for example, the principles proposed for the revised planning design guidance for Steep and the vision for the future.