(A. When it’s in my back yard)
Newport, Essex, where I live, was one of the neighbourhood planning pilots launched by Government last year to road-test the new powers in the Localism Act. The village was announced as a frontrunner in Wave 2 of the CLG scheme, alongside Stansted (or ‘Stanstead’ as the official CLG note has it).
Naturally I took an interest, not least given my role at the National Trust in working on the Planning for People campaign. If there were attempts to create a new neighbourhood plan for my own village, then I was keen to get involved.
What happened to the plan?
The more I have looked into it, however, the more it would seem that the frontrunner is simply not happening. CLG referred me to the local authority to whom the grant had been given (Uttlesford District Council). So I asked Uttlesford DC, and was referred to the Parish Council. (‘Neighbourhood plans are developed at Parish level, rather than District’, the UDC twitter feed helpfully informed me). However, when I asked the Parish Council, I was told that the Chair had met with a UDC planner, who had told them that a neighbourhood plan was no longer needed for Newport.
It would seem that UDC has decided that neither Newport nor Stansted in fact need a neighbourhood plan. I have heard that rather than return the grant, they are seeking to apply it to Saffron Walden instead. But how about asking the people of Newport? I don’t recall being consulted.
The context for all this is intense pressure to increase the number of new homes across Uttlesford. Newport currently faces a consultation on development in the local area. Further to this, a private developer has apparently proposed a significant new housing scheme for the village, possibly on the site of the historic grammar school (which would be rebuilt in a new location as a consequence). Such is the confusion and concern in the village that a Stop Newport Expansion group has been set up on Facebook, and now has over 80 members within the space of a few weeks.
I am not opposed to new development in Newport – far from it. But I have joined the Stop Newport Expansion group because I want to increase my understanding of the pressures that the village faces. I am opposed to a significant new housing development if this does not include adequate provision of affordable homes and if proper consideration has not been taken of the impact on roads, businesses and community facilities. I am watching with great interest, therefore.
Surely with such a strong level of interest in the future of Newport, the village is a prime candidate for a neighbourhood plan? It would seem, however, that the decision has already been taken by the District Council not to participate, despite being one of CLG’s frontrunners. It’s all the stranger given the criteria that the CLG set out for the frontrunners pilots. These include ensuring that ‘the local planning authority has reached agreement with an established local community group, parish council or local business organisation to undertake the project’.
Perhaps neighbourhood plans are a red herring after all, if plans for their production at the pilot stage can be submitted, approved and then apparently retracted so easily, without anyone seeming to notice.
Ben Cowell, National Trust Assistant Director of External Affairs