There is too much in the Act to cover in one blog so I would just look at the potential for neighbourhood planning. The Government claim that this should be looked at as an enabling power rather than a compulsion. Taking a parish council (population of about 2500) currently with a precept (ie annual spend) of £30,000 it seems highly unlikely that they would want to spend the equivalent on producing a formal neighbourhood plan (to go through procedures of referendum, checking conformity with the Core Strategy/Local Plan and the Examination in Public. Although this would make the plan a development plan document for the purposes of "s.38(6) ....in accordance with the development plan unless material considerations indicate otherwise." the alternative would be a more traditional village or community plan which could cost around £1000. The 'bottom line' is the weight given to the plan by the local planning authority or inspector on appeal. This should depend on the rigour with which the evidence on which the plan is based was collected and the scale of the public consultation. This can be done without a huge amount of outside help. Formal adoption would probably take up most of the cost involved in the Neighbourhood Planning process and is unlikely to add much value. Dispensing with the referendum and EiP should not mean that a parish should not leaflet, hold meetings, and debate alternatives with residents and landowners. A flush of community plans might be one of the unintended consequences of the power to do neighbourhood plans.
The position is less straighforward in towns and urban areas but again, forming a neighbourhood action group does not imply that a formal neighbourhood plan needs to be prepared and a community plan might well suffice.
In both cases I cannot resist the prompt that plans at all levels (I hold out little hope to see this in the NPPF due in April 2012) should privilege and seek to normalise co-housing and community self-build (see previous blogs). In my opinion the promotion of these issues is sufficient justification for communities to get involved in the planning process. A Norwegian visitor wondered whether co-housing was illegal in this country as he could not think of another explanation for the absence of examples.