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The Big Society has had a difficult few years. Liberal Democrat led mockery through the lifetime of the Coalition Government saw the concept indelibly marked as a figment of fun – a popular perception that may have played a part in the phrase’s low profile in the 2015 Conservative Party manifesto.

It was rather different back in the heady days of 2010. Speaking in Liverpool in June 2010 David Cameron spoke of how:

‘‘The Big Society is about a huge culture change, where people don’t always turn to officials, local authorities or central government for answers to the problems they face but instead feel both free and powerful enough to help themselves and their own communities. We need to create communities with oomph – neighbourhoods who are in charge of their own destiny, who feel if they club together and get involved they can shape the world around them.”

According to the sniggering classes this is a culture that simply hasn’t happened. In the pungent words of one commentator ‘‘the Big Society now smells a little too much like BS’’

And yet, when David Cameron’s 2010 aspirations are compared to 2016 realities, real progress is discernible in the policy area most intimately concerned with the destiny of communities – planning for development.

‘Neighbourhood planning’ is a humdrum title for a revolutionary policy- and yet the new powers it has conferred on communities has had a remarkable impact.

Introduced in the Localism Act 2011, neighbourhood planning allows parish councils and resident groups to draw up neighbourhood plans to guide development in their area. Whilst housing numbers in a neighbourhood plan have to be in line with the strategic housing numbers (set by the local authority) neighbourhood plans offer residents the opportunity to plan the look, size, shape and feel of housing developments, and to influence the community benefits that will accompany them. Crucially a neighbourhood plan is only adopted if approved at the ballot box in a community referendum.

It’s an opportunity that communities across England have seized with aplomb. Over 1,700 communities, representing over 8 million people, are now making neighbourhood plans. Over 120 neighbourhood plans have already been subject to community referendums, which have in total have involved over 250,000 voters. The ballots themselves amount to an almost North-Korean vote of confidence by residents on plans put together by their neighbours – the average yes vote across the referendums held to date has been 89%.

Critics of the Big Society have been quick to suggest that neighbourhood planning is popular only amongst nimbies, and that plans are being brought forward simply to block development. The evidence points in another direction – a sample of adopted neighbourhood plans taken last year showed that the neighbourhood plan makers had actually pushed for more homes than recommended by the local authority.  Across the 16 sample plans, there was an additional neighbourhood plan housing allocation of 891, 11% more housing than allocated by local authorities.

When it comes to planning communities have responded enthusiastically and constructively to the opportunity to take charge of their own destinies. What’s more the direct involvement of members of the public in policy making has enhanced the policy outcome – citizens have invested their time and skills in plan making and as a result more homes are being being built with more community support.

If the Conservative belief of 2010 that communities would respond positively to new decision making powers was ‘BS’, then it was a remarkably fruitful effluent.

Neighbourhood planning is just one Big Society policy strengthening society and improving outcomes six years later. From the 200,000 young people who have enrolled with the National Citizenship Service to the quarter of a million free school places created since 2010 to the local government devolution deals agreed across the UK, the march of the Big Society continues.

It’s a march currently a little hushed by fear of commentariat derision, and one that Conservatives need to trumpet more. After all the successes of the Big Society are attributable only in part to our leaders – the true pioneers have been the parish and town councillors, armchair experts and resident volunteers that have made neighbourhood planning and related policies a positive reality. Burke’s ‘little platoons’ are doing great things in today’s Britain. We should celebrate them.

Matt Browne is an Associate of Bright Blue.