Much has been spoken about the changes to the planning system as a result of the Localism Bill – some welcome ‘a new right for communities to draw up a ‘neighbourhood development plan’’ whilst others, such as the National Trust, feels it runs the risk of ‘a return to the threat of sprawl and uncontrolled development’.
But what are the planning changes in the Localism Bill exactly? I found myself reading a lot of commentary around it without feeling sure of the details being discussed. Thankfully, I found a few good sources of information, namely:
- A plain English guide to the Localism Bill from Communities and Local Government.
- A (very) plain English guide to the Localism Bill from Simply Understand (embedded above).
- A post on Neighbourhood Planning by Lorna Parsons, who puts things nice and simply: ‘the main change is that regional planning strategies are being scrapped….the Localism Bill turns this on its head and aims to make a major change in the way that local communities can influence development in their area.’
I was also lucky enough to attend a You Can Plan workshop in Birmingham organised by Lorna Parsons and Slider Studio, as part of their feasibility study into the use of digital platforms for Neighbourhood Planning. Much of the afternoon was spent brainstorming (or ‘gamestorming’) on online and offline tools community groups currently use to communicate and organise, but we started out with a useful explanation of the neighbourhood planning changes in the Localism Bill and the process that’s emerging for community groups who want to take control of planning in their areas. Michael Khon kindly repeated his explanation for this short audioboo:
It’s given me much more of a grasp of what community groups who are looking at taking control of local planning (say, for argument’s sake, the Digbeth Residents’ Association) would need to go through, namely:
1. Establish a Neighbourhood Forum recognised by your Local Authority, as you need to be either a Parish Council or Neighbourhood Forum to develop neighbourhood planning. The Localism Bill states a Neighbourhood Forum should be a group of at least 21 local people (with scope for businesses as well as residents to be involved), who would need to apply to the Local Authority for recognition as a Neighbourhood Forum. It’s unclear how this application process will work at this stage, but Michael said if a group could be defined as resident in an area, willing to work with each other and neighbouring communities then Local Authority support should be forthcoming.
2. Planning preparation – making documents, drawings, stories, etc. to collect a vision for planning development in the area. This vision has to conform to wider planning policy for Step 3…
3. Examination – the plan is scrutinised to ensure it doesn’t contradict existing policy.
4. Referendum – the Local Authority funds a local referendum to get validation of the plan from the local community. If more then 51% of voters are in favour, it’s onto Stage 5…
5. Adoption – the plan becomes local policy.
As Michael says, for potential/established Neighbourhood Forums and Parish Councils developing a neighbourhood plan, reaching out to local people and harnessing their support online as well as offline will be key:
“Even the simplest website is a good start. We see a need in all kinds of community-led planning, neighbourhood planning to up the ante in communications. It becomes actually better for everybody because you’re making your process more transparent. You’re marketing the opportunity to your neighbours to get involved, to help contribute to the ideas, contribute to the planning in its formation and by the time you get to a referendum you should be in pretty good shape to have your plans supported if you’ve been using these tools in a proactive way. Taking advantage of the free tools that are out there, taking advantage of collaborative tools that are out there, it should just help you…”
Naturally, this is something organisations such as us and existing hyperlocal website managers can help with, both with in-depth coverage of local plans in progress and giving Neighbourhood Forums and Parish Councils the skills to tell their own stories and engage local people online.