Neighbourhood Plans

Build It expert Mike Hardwick
by Mike Hardwick
24th September 2013

The Localism Act arrived with the promise of changing the planning system to reduce bureaucracy and hand more decision making powers to local residents.

So, as the weighty tomes of government planning policy statements (PPS) were replaced with skinny guidance offered in the form of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), many communities huddled together to produce neighbourhood development plans (NDP) where local residents would be asked their opinion and advise on development. One of the first areas to pilot the process was in a town close to me, but already the cracks are starting to show.

My interest in the neighbourhood plans process was in identifying areas for self-build housing – anything from infill sites to the provision of serviced building plots. I dropped in on a few of the meetings and was impressed at how the community approached the task with gusto. Everyone from local councillors and interested residents contributed. However, it’s fascinating to see how their views have been received.

One of the unintended consequences of promoting neighbourhood plans is that developers panic and start firing off planning applications before the NDPs can be formally adopted. Although the wishes of residents are known from the preliminary consultations, local authorities are not obliged to recognise these concerns yet. Where I live, a housing and supermarket development are being railroaded through without any consideration of the views expressed in these nascent neighbourhood plans.

So the bottom line still seems to be that if a Local Authority decides that the social and economic requirement for a new development overrides the wishes of local residents, then they allow it.

This is not good and will have the effect of alienating local involvement because it will be seen as a futile exercise. It’s a similar thing with the NPPF. From recent applications, I have yet to see a positive outcome from a policy that promotes a “presumption in favour of sustainable development”.

What’s more, my limited experience so far seems to be that it is being used as one more layer to support refusal for self-build in areas outside existing development boundaries.

So, a question to Build It magazine readers: Have any of you had a positive outcome from quoting the NPPF as a reason to approve your planning application, and have what’s your experience of the neighbourhood plans process? Share your thoughts with us using the comments box below!

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