Saturday, May 21, 2016

Some thoughts on neighbourhood planning

Since getting out of the way of the naighbourhood planning enthusiasts I have been trying to help from the sidelines with the same messages that were rejected when working inside the tent - as chair of the parish council and its planning committee.  Possibly 2000 NDPs are under way or have been made and all will be different in significant ways.  However, I am writing this blog in case the experience in my village has any similarities to others and might have some lessons for the unwary.

The first and most important point to be made is that there is evidence of the NDP not being read or understood by those seeking to apply it to developments in the village.  At the first committee when a significant development was being considered after the 'making' of the NDP the councillors had not brought their copies along and had not the first idea which policies were relevant and, when they were introduced from the public seats, how they should be applied.  This leads on to the next point that is the diffiiculty in drafting policies. I have blogged before on the need for policies to be proscriptive (what should not be done, prescriptive (what should be done) or permissive (what could be done). The neighbourhood planners have bequeathed the district council a plan with policies that do not mean what they had hoped but are pressing very hard for the intended meaning to apply.

Having been delegated the power to produce development plans (by the Localism Act 2011) the neighbourhood planners have taken it upon themselves to negotiate with prospective developers of the allocated sites. There is complete confusion about whether this is a rather detailed consultation (on behalf of whom it is not clear) or some form of negotiation on which the developers could reasonably rely.  Having voted on an NDP which is being interpreted in ways which could not have been anticipated at the time of the referendum, the village residents are now being 'represented' in respect of matters that were not even mentioned in the NDP.  Attendance at the meetings of the parish council or the implementation committee (of mostly non-parish councillors)  is possible but an opportunity taken up by one or two people.

The Localism Act did not foresee the extent to which local people would depart from planning practice as it has developed over the last 70 years.  The theory that the basic condition of conformity with strategic policies in the local plan (if one exists) does not appear to have prevented the neighbourhood planners from re-defining and supporting ribbon development (that was proscribed in the NDP), from successfully objecting to a development that was not allocated but which accorded with all other NDP policies (i'll come back to the main transport policy), and have decided that the development of two thirds of an open space at the centre of the village preserves or enhances the agricultural and rural  character the conservation area.   The committee has an interesting use of the term 'consensus' which seems to refer to the two or three people engaged in the negotiations with developers (or is it a consultation?).

Just on the question of transport a policy requiring new developments to 'reduce traffic' survived both the examination and scrutiny by the LPA that had been limiting development in the village due to a serious bottleneck on the main route out.  This policy is routinely ignored by the PC, implementation committee and the LPA.

My warning is that it will be hard to dissuade those who have prepared neighbourhood plans from wanting an active role in the implementation. However, these people are unlikely to have any experience of this exercise while assuming that the localism agenda if not the legislation gives them the authority for doing so.  This is an unequal 'contest' and the concept of consulting or negotiating 'without prejudice' seems to be beyond the comprehension of this very small number of enthusiasts.

None of this is 'sour grapes' from somebody squeezed out of the NDP process but a question as to how much of accepted planning practice (re ribbon development and conservation) is being re-written.  The very sad thing is that where innovation is required, for example in respect of local food systems, affordable housing/community land trusts, group self/custom-building, low carbon transport, the opportunities are being missed.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Inspector rules that food is a planning matter

Much as I would like to share my comments on the Housing and Planning Bill I am afraid that the ideology of the Government has come up against the rather deeper knowledge in intelligence of the Lords and it is impossible to know what the outcome will be (ie when the Commons vote on the amendments).  

So this blog goes back to the subject of food and rejoices in the fact that the Inspector charged with examining the VALE OF WHITE HORSE DISTRICT COUNCIL LOCAL PLAN PART 1 has issued a number invitations for further comment.


"Has the Local Plan 2031 Part 1 adequately addressed the needs of the food production industry as per paragraph 161 of the NPPF?"
To make this intelligible the relevant extracts from the National Planning Policy Framework are included in this blog: 


160. Local planning authorities should have a clear understanding of business needs within the economic markets operating in and across their area. To achieve this, they should:
●work together with county and neighbouring authorities and with Local Enterprise Partnerships to prepare and maintain a robust evidence base to understand both existing business needs and likely changes in the market;
●work closely with the business community to understand their changing needs and identify and address barriers to investment, including a lack of housing, infrastructure or viability

161. Local planning authorities should use this evidence base to assess:
●the needs for land or floorspace for economic development, including both the quantitative and qualitative needs for all foreseeable types of economic activity over the plan period, including for retail and leisure development;
●the existing and future supply of land available for economic development and its sufficiency and suitability to meet the identified needs. Reviews of land available for economic development should be undertaken at the same time as, or combined with, Strategic Housing Land Availability
Assessments and should include a reappraisal of the suitability of previously allocated land;
●the role and function of town centres and the relationship between them, including any trends in the performance of centres;
●the capacity of existing centres to accommodate new town centre development;
●locations of deprivation which may benefit from planned remedial action; and
●the needs of the food production industry and any barriers to investment that planning can resolve."

My comments to the Inspector are as follows:

"1.      This policy cannot have been complied with without also demonstrating compliance with para 160 that refers to LEPs and changes to business needs.  In fact the OxLEP is aware of the need for ‘starter farms’ [1]but this does not seem to have been conveyed to the LPA.  The LPA response to the inspector’s question relies on the CE/SQW Report that does not address changes to the local food systems or the barriers to change that, as implied by this question, a ‘sound ‘ local plan would need to address.  The ‘robust evidence base’ required by para 160 and which should deal with the role that food and agriculture plays in housing, soils, biodiversity, as well as employment and business is entirely missing.

2.      The ‘barriers to investment’ that the draft plan has failed to identify or address let alone ‘resolve’ include the affordable land for new farm enterprises, the associated and affordable housing, and the components of a low carbon food system in terms of production, processing and distribution.  The LPA response is not and could not be that para 161 is irrelevant but, despite have received representations throughout the plan preparation period, changes to local food systems were simply not investigated.  The ‘business as usual’ approach to food systems is not only contrary to the NPPF requirement to consider changing needs, but contribute to locking-in the existing systems and make change much more difficult.  Sound planning is expected and required to avoid  this trap and positively plan for the future.

3.      The consequence of this omission (not only causing the plan to be unsound) will be that the changes necessary to reduce the carbon emissions from agriculture will be made much more difficult if not impossible to achieve. The plan must be able to show how it would contribute to the achievement of sustainable development and mitigate carbon emissions.[2]  Given the significant scale of carbon emissions from agriculture (and subsequent processing and distribution) the 60% reductions to carbon emissions required by 2030 will not be possible if the plan does not deal positively with this issue.

4.      The necessary changes anticipated by paras 160 and 161 are likely to involve an increase in new farms and farmers who without modifications being made to the plan will not find it possible to access suitable and affordable land or associated housing." 

I hope that my blog conveys the idea that the main problem with the planning system is that it puts people off and despite the reduction of reading load represented by the NPPF, few people actually read it and use the good bits in advocating the necessary changes to bring about sustainable development.  In this case the Inspector is asking how the draft local plan meets existing Government policy.

[1] Creating the environment for growth OxLEP 2-15  p63
[2] ss 39(2) and 19 of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 (as amended)