After a few months of Neighbourhood Planning I have some advice for those engaged in this enterprise. I have identified four main principles.
1. Sustainability: this is obviously key as it is the Government's own policy in the NP PF that all new development should be sustainable with a strong inference that unsustainable development should be resisted. I would take the view that new development should contribute to whatever is necessary to make a location sustainable as well as being as close to zero carbon as is currently technically feasible before it should be approved. Any development which is not zero carbon would have to be upgraded between now and 2050 to comply with the Climate Change Act 2008 and in the meantime being a further liability in terms of carbon emissions. In fact, for residential development, micro generation would also be necessary to compensate for sectors (air transport, agriculture, manufacture and power generation) that are very unlikely to reach 80% reduction targets. Neighbourhood planners should compile a list of services and facilities that would make a location sustainable (improved bus services, car clubs, community facilities and employment opportunities). Given the high level of under occupancy in most areas outside town and city centres attractive opportunities to downsize and other small dwellings for young singles and couples should comprise the vast majority of new dwellings.
2. Viability will also need to be properly assessed, probably by somebody with the recognised credentials being a member of the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors. While it is entirely reasonable to expect development to contribute to the necessary elements of sustainability the costs would have to be such that the development will proceed. Developers will be reluctant to reveal all their development costs in the exercise of “open book accounting" but this would seem to be essential if viability assessments to be a transparent process.
3. Compatibility with the relevant local plan is another statutory requirement and the best way of ensuring the appropriate level of conformity with the high-level plan is to engage with the local planning authority and, preferably, benefit from the assistance of their staff. The Government had promised that up to £30,000 will be made available to fund this assistance and parish councils and neighbourhood forums should take advantage of this by, for instance, asking the LPA to carry out the necessary sustainability appraisal.
4. There is no guarantee within the Localism Act that time and space will be given to parish councils and neighbourhood forums to prepare their development plans before speculative applications are approved. However, if a significant amount of effort is put into this task and public money invested from the government fund and council taxpayers a legitimate expectation will be created such that the Courts could decide that it would be unreasonable for developments to be approved that would undermine the neighbourhood development planning process and reduce the work and investment carried out to exercises in futility.
5. The other source of outside assistance that may be required in neighbourhood planning in a way that will not destroy the neighbourhood of the services of a mediator or facilitator so that decisions that affect people within the village or neighbourhood are properly framed And explained in such a way that the interests of the community are paramount. There should not be any proposal within a neighbourhood plan where the community benefit would so severely damage the interests of individuals within the community in any way that would not have been possible under the previous planning regime.