I’d heard a lot about Power Up from various people. They told we it was great. They told me that I’d learn everything I ever needed to know about planning issues. To be honest, spending a weekend learning about planning didn’t sound all that great to me, but I was very wrong.

When I arrived at Harborne Hall, where Power Up was taking place, I heard that one of the FoE staff members had been thrown out of the previous session for causing trouble; it was starting to sound more interesting already. It turned out that the session had been a mock council planning meeting and he had been playing a local resident objecting to the proposal. It very much set the tone for the weekend, with lively and interesting discussions and workshops with some extremely passionate campaigners from around the country.

The next morning we were taken on a magical mystery tour of Digbeth and Birmingham city centre to illustrate how planning had shaped the city. Despite living here for 8 months now, I learned things I never knew; like how New Street became pedestrianised, why Moor Street station has only 2 working platforms and why some of the buildings in Digbeth stand empty. It was an eye-opening experience that really demonstrated the power of council planning to make or break an area.

The rest of the day was taken up talking about the real nitty-gritty of objecting to planning proposals and three major things stood out to me:

  • Most decisions about housing and major infrastructure are made at a regional level, long before local people are notified that a new incinerator is going to built on their doorstep. So if you care about this sort of thing, get involved in consulting on the Core Strategy (www.tinyurl.com/r4wrka)

  • There is specific planning policy that can be used to argue against planning applications on environmental and sustainability grounds

  • You can get a lot of information about planning proposals from your council through Freedom of Information Requests, and there are plenty of ways to stop them wriggling out of it.

The workshops went into quite some detail about all this, so much so that I felt I was getting a lot more than I had paid for to attend. I didn’t need to be told that I was being trained by experts, it was obvious to everyone there that these guys knew their stuff.

The very final session of the weekend really summed up the whole event for me. Everyone was asked to pick an object, animal or word that described how they felt about things. One person said they felt like a hippo, as they were bloated with all the new knowledge they had acquired; another person described themselves as Tigger, as they felt so energised and ready to go. The object I chose was a light bulb (an energy saving one of course) as it felt like one had been turned on in my head. Power Up showed me that I really can have an influence in what happens to my community and gave me the tools to do it.

But even if you didn’t make it to Power Up, many of those tools are available to you too! If you’re fighting a planning application, want to find out how to make a freedom of information request or you’re interested in finding out your rights to help shape your area, have a look at the Community Rights Resource Pack, which you can find at www.tinyurl.com/q5wgbu. It’s an amazing resource and essential reading for anyone that wants to change their community for the better.