The Government’s new emphasis on neighbourhood planning and localism will require planners to change some traditional ways of working in favour of “innovation, collaboration and passing down power”.
That was decentralisation minister Greg Clark’s key message when he clarified the Government’s aspirations for a new tier of plan-making at a meeting organised by the Planning Officers Society
He stressed that neighbourhood planning was conceived to encourage greater involvement and from a wider range of people. “The question of what happens to the village green, or the estate down the road, will feel far more direct and meaningful to most members of the public than the abstractions and high-level objectives of regional strategies.”
He added: “What's more, this is an opportunity not to be ‘consulted then ignored,’ but to wield real power. Valid neighbourhood development plans, confirmed by a simple majority of the neighbourhood in a local referendum, must be brought into force by local authorities.”
Clark explained that it would be up to councils to decide which groups and local bodies could develop neighbourhood plans.
“It will be up to the local authority to decide between competing proposals. They may not be able to please all of the people, all of the time. And in the past it has been very convenient to be able to say, truthfully, ‘my hands are tied’ and to pass hot potatoes up to Whitehall. But as central government makes room for much greater discretion to a local level, we expect local authorities to show leadership.”
The minister said that the new arrangements would reinforce the importance of existing local plans. “Throughout all the proposed changes, the importance of high-quality, well-designed local plans is a constant. If anything, they will matter more.”
He went on: “They will set the wider context for neighbourhood plans. It is important for people to have the opportunity to express their ambitions for their very local area, but it's also important that those ambitions are consistent with the needs and ambitions of the residents of the wider area.
“So those authorities who have complete or well-developed plans should continue to use them, and those who do not should look to make swift progress as a matter of urgency.”
The minister denied that the new regime would undermine locally elected representatives.
“Neighbourhood planning is an opportunity for locally elected representatives. They will be able to work with local people, to help them express themselves, to lead and inform the debate in the best interests of the local area. Councillors should not feel left out, they should get stuck in.”
The Localism Bill, the legislation which underpins the Coalition’s planning reforms, will be scrutinised by a committee of MPs sitting four times a week starting on 1 February. Their work will have to be completed by 10 March, Parliament has agreed.
During preliminary evidence sessions just completed MPs heard there was broad support for the Government’s measures in principle but reservations about the resources which would be available for the new planning regime and concern over the Government’s proposals for over one hundred reserve powers in the Bill.
27 January 2011