Campaigners challenge Government to fulfil its pledge to strengthen neighbourhood planning

Campaigners challenge Government to fulfil its pledge to strengthen neighbourhood planning

Campaigners are urging Government to back up its pledge to give added strength to neighbourhood planning, following a debate on the Housing and Planning Bill on Monday (9 May).

Planning minister Brandon Lewis once again rejected a Lords amendment tabled by Baroness Parminter to enable communities with a complete or emerging neighbourhood plan to appeal against decisions that conflicted with that plan. Citing his opposition to extending third party rights in the planning system, Mr Lewis achieved parliamentary support to reinstate the Government’s own amendment to support neighbourhood planning: a clause to ensure complete plans are referred to in decisions.

The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), Civic Voice and the National Association of Local Councils (NALC) are disappointed that the Government has established a clause that adds nothing to standard practice, but are heartened by Mr Lewis’s pledge to ‘work with colleagues to ensure that neighbourhood plans enjoy the primacy that we intend them to have in planning law’.

The groups believe that ministers can and should work with supportive Conservative MPs, such as Nick Herbert, and supportive peers to give greater weight to neighbourhood planning [1]. The groups argue that the secretary of state should incorporate the principles of a ‘neighbourhood right to be heard’, as also tabled (and subsequently withdrawn) by Baroness Parminter on Tuesday (10 May), into secondary legislation or existing planning policy. These principles could include:

a duty to have special regard to made or emerging neighbourhood development plans;
a duty to meaningfully consult the neighbourhood planning body and take account of that body’s recommendations; and
guidance on and power to call-in decisions that do not accord with the plan [2]

Neighbourhood plans represent local aspirations and have been shown to increase the number of homes planned locally [3]. The House of Lords twice voted to introduce Baroness Parminter’s amendment establishing a neighbourhood right of appeal, and the Government twice rejected it.

It has been argued by many, including some MPs, that the Government’s amendment in lieu ‘does not go far enough’ beyond existing good practice in supporting neighbourhood planning.

Sarah James, head of policy, Civic Voice, said:

"Neighbourhood plans are undermined by speculative developments, so we need a mechanism to ensure that those neighbourhood plans, once agreed or when close to agreement, are not subverted.

“Civic Voice wants to see a plan-led system, but where an application departs from a plan, the community should have the right to challenge. We will continue to campaign on this important civic movement issue".

Matt Thomson, head of planning at CPRE, said:

“While the Government’s amendment will reduce the scope of neighbourhood plans, and thereby the confidence of communities in them, we are pleased that the minister will explore further ways to empower local people.

“Lords and MPs have done a vital job in bringing attention to this issue. It is now up to Government to prove their commitment to neighbourhood plans and afford them more weight when crucial decisions are made.”

Councillor Ken Browse, chairman, National Association of Local Councils (NALC), said:

“Neighbourhood planning is undoubtedly a positive step forward in placing more power over development in the hands of local people, but it is imperative the hard work of parish and town councils, working with their communities, and the integrity of neighbourhood plans, are not undermined.

“I look forward to working with the government and others to strengthen neighbourhood planning to ensure communities really are in the driving seat of how their places grow and develop.”

 

ENDS

Notes

[1] Nick Herbert MP (Con, Arundel and South Downs) was very supportive of the Neighbourhood Right of Appeal, and in January tabled a Commons amendment to establish it in the Housing and Planning Bill. Alongside positive comments from Antoinette Sandbach (Con, Eddisbury), Mr Herbert spoke at length about the benefits of bringing in a right of appeal. He welcomed the minister’s pledge to discuss further ways of empowering neighbourhood planning.

Nick Herbert, House of Commons debate on Housing and Planning Bill, 9 May 2016

“It is therefore of concern to local communities that are about to produce a neighbourhood plan or have made one, and to other areas in the process of producing such plans or considering them, if developers appear to be allowed to come along, game the system, bang in a speculative planning application in the hope that they will get it through…”

Nick Herbert MP, House of Commons debate on Housing and Planning Bill, 9 May 2016

“…action in this area is necessary. The Government have taken a step towards it by seeking to insist on an amendment in lieu, which would require local authorities to identify where there was a conflict with the neighbourhood plan. That does not go far enough, because it merely reflects what happens in the planning system at the moment. I welcome the Minister’s willingness to engage with concerned Members on this issue, his understanding of its importance and his commitment to look at it again, perhaps with a view to some future proposals that will ensure that the policy of neighbourhood planning is upheld.

[2] There is the potential to restrict the scope of the proposal to relate to (a) specified types of planning application, i.e. proposals for new homes on sites not already identified in the relevant development plans, and (b) specified types of neighbourhood plan, i.e. those that plan positively for new housing development.

The ‘duty to meaningfully consult the neighbourhood planning body and take account of that body’s recommendations’ embodied in para (3) of the amendment could be included within a statute similar to the Town and Country Planning (Development Management Procedure) (England) Order 2015.

The call-in direction element in para (4) could be incorporated into an updated The Town and Country Planning (Consultation) (England) Direction 2009

[3] https://www.gov.uk/government/news/neighbourhood-planning-powers-boosting-plans-for-housebuilding-by-more-than-10