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…