OK. The Good. £9.7 million of funding over the next two years. You know, despite some quibbles, we remain big fans of neighbourhood planning.
The other key ingredient is that DCLG recognise the need to send some of this funding arrowing to those actually doing the neighbourhood planning. The various neighbourhood planning bodies, whether they be parishes or neighbourhood fora. This would be via a grant or voucher scheme.
Unfortunately, at this point, we have to say things start to go, for us a little pear shaped. Firstly, the grants, or vouchers would be up to £7,000 per neighbourhood area. For “start-up costs, training sessions, required studies and incidentals”. £7,000? Didn’t DCLG’s own impact assessment acknowledge a complex neighbourhood plan could cost up to £60 odd thousand? Hopefully, to help such areas, they can come back for more, and will not be limited to a single grant/voucher application.
But the really ugly bit is the funding split. Only 40% (£3.88 million) of the programme is going to the actual doers. The grants and vouchers we have just alluded to.
A whopping 57.5% (£5.58 million) will go to what is referred to as “direct support” to help neighbourhoods through the process, and administering the scheme. This will be provided by one provider, or a consortia. Bang goes the Government commitment to using smaller suppliers.
Now, the real fear is that this is the stuff we have had over the last two years from the four existing providers – training (we know somebody who does that for free!), web sites, how to guides – because the feedback we have had from the many we have talked to is that this has been OK up to a point, but has not helped them do what they really wanted to do – which is get preparing a plan. What they really needed and wanted was direct funding – grants and vouchers. We say this after being involved in one way or another with over 20 neighbourhoods looking at neighbourhood planning. The key question for the majority is how do we pay for all this?
Now, if as we understand, if ministers have been slightly unimpressed with their existing programme why have they opted for such an poorly balanced funding split? We cannot help but say: “control”. For almost 60% of the funding will be centrally controlled. After all we can’t have those pesky communities doing, and deciding things, for themselves can we?
If neighbourhood planning is to be truly community-led the answer has to be yes.
©Kirkwells Town Planners and Sustainable Development Consultants based at the Lancashire Digital Technology Centre in Burnley www.kirkwells.co.uk
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