The Localism Act, which received Royal Assent on November 15 2011, introduced new rights and powers to allow local communities to shape new development by coming together to prepare neighbourhood plans.
Neighbourhood planning can be taken forward by two types of body - town and parish councils or 'neighbourhood forums'. Neighbourhood forums are community groups that are designated to take forward neighbourhood planning in areas without parishes. It is the role of the local planning authority to agree who should be the neighbourhood forum for the neighbourhood area.
The criteria for establishing neighbourhood forums are being kept as simple as possible to encourage new and existing residents’ organisations, voluntary and community groups to put themselves forward.
Neighbourhood forums and parish councils can use new neighbourhood planning powers to establish general planning policies for the development and use of land in a neighbourhood. These are described legally as 'neighbourhood development plans.'
In an important change to the planning system communities can use neighbourhood planning to permit the development they want to see - in full or in outline – without the need for planning applications. These are called 'neighbourhood development orders.'
Local councils will continue to produce development plans that will set the strategic context within which neighbourhood development plans will sit.
Neighbourhood development plans or orders do not take effect unless there is a majority of support in a referendum of the neighbourhood.
They also have to meet a number of conditions before they can be put to a community referendum and legally come into force. These conditions are to ensure plans are legally compliant and take account of wider policy considerations (e.g. national policy).
An independent qualified person then checks that a neighbourhood development plan or order appropriately meets the conditions before it can be voted on in a local referendum. This is to make sure that referendums only take place when proposals are workable and of a decent quality.
Proposed neighbourhood development plans or orders need to gain the approval of a majority of voters of the neighbourhood to come into force. If proposals pass the referendum, the local planning authority is under a legal duty to bring them into force.
Community Right to Build
The Localism Act also allows for community organisations to bring forward a ‘community right to build order’ which is a type of neighbourhood development order.
This allows certain community organisations to bring forward smaller-scale development on a specific site, without the need for planning permission. This gives communities the freedom to develop, for instance, small-scale housing and other facilities that they want.
Any benefit from this development stays within the community to be used for the community's benefit, for example, to maintain affordable housing stock or to provide and maintain local facilities such as playgrounds and village halls.
Community right to build orders are subject to a limited number of exclusions, such as proposals needing to fall below certain thresholds so that an Environmental Impact Assessment is not required. Proposals are subject to testing by an independent person and a community referendum.
Community Infrastructure Levy
The Community Infrastructure Levy allows local authorities to set charges which developers must pay when bringing forward new development in order to contribute to new or enhanced services and infrastructure.
The Localism Act includes provisions to make regulations which will require a meaningful proportion of these funds to be passed to neighbourhoods where the development has taken place.
New Homes Bonus scheme
The New Homes Bonus Scheme provides cash for areas that allow new homes to be built in their area. Government funding has been set aside for local councils that welcome new housing development, which they can spend to benefit their local community.
Under the scheme the Government matches the council tax raised from new homes for the first six years through the New Homes Bonus. Councils and communities work together to decide how to spend the extra funding - whether council tax discounts for local residents, boosting frontline services like rubbish collection or providing local facilities like swimming pools and leisure centres.
Watch the Government video to find out what neighbourhood planning could mean for you from key figures in the local government, voluntary and charity sectors.
You can also view the full text of the Localism Act and explanatory notes.
A plain English guide to the Act is also available.