Image showing consultation board - saying "What needs doing first?"

Last week after a rather tortuous rail journey (albeit for the saddest of reasons and far beyond anyone’s control) we finally made it to York for the Action for Market Towns’ (AMT) event on neighbourhood planning.

Part of the AMT’s Getting to Grips with Localism series this session on neighbourhood planning revealed a little of how things have moved on since Kirkwells spoke at a similar AMT session in London in November.

Back then many seemed to be feeling their way, and we had been asked along to give the benefit of our experience in preparing neighbourhood plans.

To some extent the York event revealed the same mix of enthusiasm and trepidation for neighbourhood planning we had encountered last year. Enthusiasm in that parish, town councils, and neighbourhood fora were eager to get cracking with neighbourhood planning. Trepidation because there were concerns about process, cost, community engagement and time demands.

The York event’s two main speakers allayed some of these fears and showed that communities really can be in the driving seat when it comes to neighbourhood planning.

First up was Colin Horncastle from Allendale in Northumberland. Colin described the process Allendale had gone through in producing their neighbourhood plan. In particular, Coiln emphasised the help provided by Northumberland Council. Support without which the plan would probably not have been prepared. Many in the room felt that Allendale had been lucky – their local council were being supportive – an experience not found everywhere. Even so, Colin felt neighbourhood planning was a process that was still going to take some 27 months! It should also be borne in mind that Allendale are benefiting from the financial support provided by the Government’s neighbourhood planning frontrunner scheme.

At this point, it was the turn of the day’s second main speaker, Gareth Bradford from Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG), to talk about the lessons learnt from the neighbourhood planning frontrunners.

Gareth dealt with some of the “myths” around neighbourhood planning:

  • most plans were taking 12 not 27 months;
  • neighbourhood plans did not have to be “detailed planning documents” – one frontrunner had as few as two policies, another dealt with a single street;
  • neighbourhood plans did not have to be in “absolute line” with the local councils plans only in “general conformity with strategic policies”;
  • local councils did have a duty to support neighbourhood planning; and
  • cost – neighbourhood plans do not have to be expensive to prepare.

Joining in one of the afternoon’s workshop sessions it was clear that whilst some fears had been quelled, and enthusiasm remained, there were still many unanswered questions. Particularly on costs, finding time to prepare a plan, dealing with council officials and developers, and engaging local communities.

We must admit whilst being big supporters of neighbourhood planning we do share some of these concerns. But, overall, much progess has been made and we look forward to the next AMT event.

If you are preparing a neighbourhood plan, thinking of preparing a neighbourhood plan, or have a neighbourhood planning problem and need advice give us a call on 01282 872570, or email. Our planners offer free, no obligation advice and assistance.


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