A ground-breaking report on planning for faith communities in Barking & Dagenham has just been published. The report, by CAG in conjunction with LUC, Dr Richard Gale (Cardiff University) and Dr Andrew Rogers (Roehampton University) provides a model for other local authority areas experiencing rapid demographic change.
The demographic transformation of many urban areas of the UK continues and the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham is no exception. The borough saw a more than 300% growth in residents born outside of the UK between the 2001 and 2011 censuses. The Muslim population grew by more than 250%. By 2011, 72 different non-English main household languages were being spoken in the borough.
Growth and change continues at pace. The Greater London Authority (GLA) projects population growth of 88,050 people by 2050, equivalent to 43.4 percent growth from the 2015 population estimate. The council has plans to accommodate even more.
The demographic, social and cultural changes in the borough have resulted in the growth of existing religious meeting places, with some new facilities generating considerable local controversy. The demand for new religious meeting places has far outstripped appropriate supply and the council face pressure to respond.
It is the responsibility of the planning system to mediate between demand for religious meeting places and the impacts associated with these developments such as traffic, noise and land use changes. Doing so in the context of highly built-up areas, with high land costs and competing development needs, not to mention the political and cultural sensitivities and complexities, is a challenge that few planning authorities have had the courage to face head-on.
The London Borough of Barking and Dagenham recognises the needs of the borough’s faith communities and their vital and distinctive role in the voluntary and community sector, including the provision of local and neighbourhood services, often in areas of long-term disadvantage. However, working effectively with faith groups to identify an appropriate long-term and sustainable solution for their accommodation needs was hampered by a shortage of evidence on the scale and nature of their requirements.
The council commissioned CAG Consultants, LUC, Dr Richard Gale (Cardiff University) and Dr. Andrew Rogers (University of Roehampton) to develop profiles of the borough’s faith communities, carry out an audit of existing faith facilities and carry out a needs assessment of faith facilities, taking into account existing and projected future needs. The latter element, projecting future needs, was key to informing the council’s growth plans, and required the development of novel techniques to translate demographic projections into ethno-religious breakdowns and likely floorspace demands.
Through extensive engagement with faith groups in the borough, physical surveys, mapping and statistical analysis, the study outputs provide a basis for decision-making and the development of future policy. Crucially, the study process and its outputs provide a foundation for improved communication and closer cooperation between the faith groups themselves and between the council and the faith groups.