This research evidences the power and influence local amenity societies have had on planning policy, conservation and townscape since World War II. It is based on a single case study of the St Marylebone Society (SMS), an amenity society founded in 1948 to protect the townscape of Marylebone in central London. It describes how they established, increased membership and linked with organisations to increase their network power, evolving and adapting to operate effectively within changing planning policy frameworks over the ensuing decades to the present day.
Their involvement at four sites in Marylebone, considered at different time periods, assesses the outcomes to evidence their acquisition and use of both overt and covert power, as identified by Lukes (2005). The strategies and tactics they employed to exercise their power are considered in detailed historical narratives, with reference to Flyvjberg’s (1998) theories relating to power, rationality, rationalization and how long-standing personal relationships are instrumental to decision-making at local level.
Today amenity societies are embedded within the planning system and integral to political ambition to increase public participation and engender social capital, as legislated by Neighbourhood Planning. However, they are essentially self-elected volunteers, dominated by a homogenous demographic, raising issues of equity and representation in an increasingly complex, culturally diverse and politically divided society. The benefits of their long-term activism and knowledge risk being lost by declining membership and broken networks. This research identifies that amenity societies must protect their valuable cumulative phronetic knowledge, adapt to embrace technology and policies to encourage wider participation and optimise their network power for positive townscape, neighbourhood and community outcomes.