Planning for the future: What do Neighbourhood Plans say?

In 2011 the government passed the Localism Act. The Act enables communities to create Neighbourhood Plans through which they can shape the places in which they live. Three years on, we’ve taken a look at the first 20 Plans to see what’s in them.

The Plans play a dual role, not only allowing neighbourhoods to set out how they want their area to develop, but also giving these neighbourhoods limited powers to grant planning permission in specific circumstances. We have already seen them influencing planning decisions with Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, giving two Neighbourhood Plans weight in his rulings on recent planning cases. In Malmesbury 77 new homes were blocked because they clashed with a draft neighbourhood plan, whilst in Broughton Astley, Leicestershire the planning inspector was overruled and plans for 111 homes on a green field site were blocked because they conflicted with the neighbourhood plan. This follows an announcement in July that the Government will scrutinise planning appeals in or close to neighbourhood plan areas until July 2015.

The National Trust sees planning as an important way in which necessary development can be built in the most sustainable locations, and heritage and countryside can be protected, By this we’re thinking not just about our big Places but also about the everyday heritage that matters to communities and the green spaces that they value. As more areas make use of new neighbourhood planning powers, and as some groups like the Green Alliance call for the role and capacity of neighbourhood planning to be extended, we’ll be looking with interest to see if neighbourhood plans help communities to develop whilst retaining what is special about their places.Planning .

We’ve split the policies and ideas of the first 20 Plans into four main sections: Housing, Environment, Transport and Design Standards to allow us to compare them. Housing is discussed in all the Plans with each having specific ideas about residential development. They acknowledge there will be houses built with some going on to state the number they anticipate, giving a total of 2878 houses proposed across 11 of the Plans. The majority of Plans see the importance of providing affordable housing and some give a percentage of development this should be. There is also a strong feeling across the Plans about the need to meet the housing needs of the community such as providing homes for farmers or the elderly. All are in favour of using small scale windfall sites allowing small developments. Around half of the plans also express a clear preference for using brownfield sites first for housing developments.

Three quarters of the Plans talk about ‘open’ or ‘green spaces’ suggesting concern about their connection with nature. At least 40 green spaces have already been allocated by these Plans. Through the rural Plans – half the Plans are significantly or exclusively rural, six are urban and four are mixed – we see a desire to maintain the green space surrounding to avoid merging with neighbouring villages. Sports facilities, allotments and even gardens are discussed across the Plans. Many also talk about the need to protect existing trees as well as encouraging the planting of new trees including along streets. Flooding is another common concern and Plans look at measures to help reduce or manage the risk. For many, flooding is a condition future developers must consider before they will be given permission to build.

Transport is a key issue in all Plans. There is a desire to cut down car usage and to encourage cycling, walking and public transport meaning there is a strong push for cycle ways, footpaths and improved bus services. There is also much about easing parking problems both in town centres and requiring new developments to have adequate off street parking.

Setting design standards is a way in which Plans can protect and influence the spirit of their places. Plans feature a range of policies such as requiring local building materials, offering protection to specific buildings and looking to regulate shop frontages. There is a general sense across the Plans of ensuring developments do not compromise the ‘spirit’ of their places whilst realising that some changes will be inevitable.

Around 1000 areas have signalled their intention to create a neighbourhood plan. We will be eagerly looking on to see if they follow the ideas and themes which have emerged from the first 20 or if they introduce new ideas. And. of course, we will be looking to see at what impact those Plans already enacted have on shaping the places they cover.

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