Neighbourhood planning – the key to localism?

Claire Graves, National Trust Senior Press Officer, is not convinced.


The Government’s consultation on neighbourhood planning regulations closes today. We’ll be submitting a full response (PDF 54kb).

We’ve not heard much noise about this consultation, which is worrying, given the importance placed on neighbourhood plans by Government to deliver Localism.

What’s so important about neighbourhood plans?

They’re given a prominent place in the draft National Planning Policy Framework, and according to the Right Hons Eric Pickles and Greg Clark, they’re the planning panacea.

As reported in the Guardian on Monday, the Government’s housing strategy cites neighbourhood plans as the key “to promote imaginative, locally distinctive, well designed new homes and neighbourhoods, and offer residents the chance to shape their areas”.

Back in May last year, Mr Pickles claimed neighbourhood planning as the saviour of allotments.

Mr Clark also extolled neighbourhood planning as the route to creating ‘baby-friendly Britain’.

In fact, a quick search on the DCLG website shows how keen they are to paint a positive picture of England shaped by neighbourhood plans.

So how are neighbourhood plans working in reality?

While we’d love it to be so, as a reality check and to inform our response to the consultation, we conducted a survey among pilot ‘frontrunner’ neighbourhood plans. All is not quite as rosy as Messrs Pickles and Clark would like us to believe.

Our research suggests that the fledgling ‘frontrunners’ have so far been held back by a lack of clear guidance and direction.

My colleague, Ben Cowell, Assistant Director of External Affairs, has some pretty strong words to say:

“In principle, we welcome neighbourhood planning and its role in delivering localism, since it gives people the power to protect and enhance the places they care about. In practice, however, we foresee major problems ahead.

“There is no clarity on the relationship between Local Plans and Neighbourhood Plans, and which has primacy in different scenarios. This must be addressed

“The draft regulations place a great emphasis on Local Authorities as the ultimate arbiters and decision makers. Yet planning services at the local level face severe cutbacks.

What about the frontrunners?

“Those working on the frontrunner Plans told us that they lack the crucial professional skills that are needed to create effective plans and engage fully with the community. They’re suffering from a lack of a central networking facility to communicate with other Neighbourhood Forums.

“Where the Neighbourhood Plan frontrunners are succeeding, they’ve had help from The Prince’s Foundation, CPRE, RTPI and Locality. This assistance has been funded by the Government for the pilot phase only.

“Financial support is essential if the Government’s goal of localism is to be achieved, so the fact that no ongoing funding is confirmed yet for neighbourhood plans is of great concern.”

Let’s hope enough people respond to the consultation, and that the Department is in listening mode…


12 thoughts on “Neighbourhood planning – the key to localism?

  1. Pingback: That was the local government week that was « We Love Local Government

  2. What provision is there for Appeals? Our local council has been reluctant to let planning applications go to appeal because of the legal costs involved. This means that in our area, North-West Leicestershire, the developer is king and can do whatever they like. We have no redress. We have lost our local pub to a developer who has created 13 flats from the listed building and 20+ parking spaces with only one combined entrance and exit. The building is still standing empty…..

  3. It does apear that this government will ignore the public. And breach the 1215 Charter for forests signed by King John. protecting our forests. We have the right to say stay away from and keep your hands of our forests. they are not for Mr cameron friends to make profits. to be ploughed back into the Tory coffers.
    Resign Resign

  4. There appears to be a great deal of confusion in this area.
    After proposing changes to a recently agreed local plan in Tiptree, Essex, to support a company which wishes to develop greenfield land outside the previously agreed boundaries, Colchester Borough Council have now decided to go the ‘Frontrunner’ route by delivering a scheme in the name of Tiptree Parish Council without telling them first!
    It seems that councils are employing aspects of the Localism Bill before the necessary legislation is in place and this is only adding to the confusion. It appears that they will employ anything available to push through schemes which they support.

  5. Lots of long sentences with comforting words like neighbourhood and local and consultation, but in reality it’s all a load of twaddle!! Bill Smith at number 2 Acacia Avenue will not be able to stop the government concreting over his local field. The decision will be made by councillors and planning officers who have one hand of the government around their throats and the other hand waving wads of cash ready to be ‘ injected ‘ into their communities. It is just plain lies to suggest that local people will be able to stop their villages and towns from being swamped by unwanted housing.

  6. I think the NT responses to the various stages strike exactly the right tone; highlighting the salient features of the proposals that still need to be addressed.

    I still believe that rather than placing the emphasis on revising the planning regulations it would be far more beneficial if the Government assisted local authorities to bring unoccupied properties back into use.

    Across England the total cost for this is huge, but properly managed and with ‘planning’ it could have the ‘knock-on’ effect of creating jobs and economic growth, particularly if the private sector were involved.

    If the Government is really serious about minimising the effect of further development, it should take action to force organisations (such as the major supermarkets) to release land they own, on which they have no intention of building, but hold on to for no other reason than preventing their perceived competitors from doing so. This is often land on which they have no chance of getting permission to build what they would regard as a viable proposition, so it remains unused when it could be developed for another purpose; provision of social amenity for example.

    There are so many things the Government could do (or provide support for) that would allow for development without negative impact on the surrounding environment, which would be infinitely preferable to just adopting the default position of ‘yes to development’.

  7. It is very difficult to know what is meant by “Neighbourhood Plan”, as opposed (?) to eg “Local/Regional Plan”. The trust has highlighted the obvious difficulties of lack of expertise/training and so on; is this yet another example of a government initiative based on wishful thinking rather than careful research and indeed planning? Or are Ministers intent on causing confusion, under cover of which unpalatable policies and proposals may get through? We shall see: in the meantime, we cannot afford to relax our vigilance.

  8. Hi team,
    Thanks for updating me on the neighbourhood plans consultation. We would like to consider using them as a way of preventing further development in our conservation village. How would this work as it seems to us that the plans would only be drafted to influence development?
    Thanks for your help.

    • You’re welcome Faith. As we understand it, within the draft NPPF, neighbourhood plans can be used to shape the kind of development in your neighbourhood, and plan for more development, but not say no to development. So for example, you could say: ‘any houses built here must be of the highest design spec and carbon neutral’, but you couldn’t say ‘no to any more houses’.

      This could all change in the final Planning Framework, we wait to find out.

  9. Believing politicians is living in a fantasy world. They do not/do not want to understand the way poor local planning decisions can destroy peoples’ happiness. To say local people willl be involved is a case of ‘seeing is believing’. Also, the sort of decisions taken on local planning depends a great deal on the local planning department, as experience has taught us that rules governing planning can be ignored when it suits the local planners to give in to certain people.

  10. My family and neighbours are suffering from the worst effects of our current planning system and all indications are that the NPPF will only make things worse. Individual views, however positive in helping to achieve some influence on a proposed development site, have no value within the planning process as the overworked planners are merely completing a “tick-box” process. I had innocently assumed the planners were working on the behalf of the local residents to get the best long term results but they are run ragged by the rapacious developers and builders, facing “Chinese water torture treatment” with numerous reworked submissions before caving-in. Parish Councillors and County Councillors unfortunately have little if any influence because of the way the system operates, It also seems totally unfair that if development plans are turned down, the developer can appeal but if the plans are approved, there is no avenue appeal to local residents, even if only to seek modifications to small parts of the overall development.

  11. Because the Neighbourhood Plan will have legal force this is new territory for the frontrunners.
    It certainly wont affect the Numbers of houses, as they are set by core strategy for each neighbourhood.
    The big deal is the chance for the local community to select sites for development, rather than allowing the central planning department to select sites, or worse still, any developer who can do a deal with a local landowner.
    The Neighbourhood Plan can allow the community to specify change of use, protection of buildings / services / Green Spaces and even the style and ownership of new homes – all the things we care about.
    Woodcote as a frontrunner has a team of unpaid volunteers creating the plan which requires thousands of man hours. The benefits to the village are simply too good, and the consequences of not having a plan too dire for this to be left to chance.

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