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.

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