Neighbourhood Plans: opportunities for Community Development

Neighbourhood Planning – so how do we do it and who is to pay?

Neighbourhood planning is changing the whole landscape for local planning.  Whether these radical new rights result in a slow burn in uptake, or a frenzy of interest and discussion at the local level, the same questions will be asked – how do we do it, what does it cost and who pays?

Neighbourhood Plans are about much more than a set of lines on a map which shows what is to be built where. Perhaps one question not asked so much relates to the real value to be gained from taking part in the process such as greater cohesion, sense of community, pride and local identity.

Neighbourhood plans present a good opportunity for community development.

The ‘front runner’ neighbourhood planning schemes, of which there are over 200, raise the question of how local authorities assist and engage with their preparation.  Will local authorities act defensively, seeking to retain control over the future planning of their neighbourhoods and therefore overlook the opportunities for local communities to reach out and build a better relationship within and, sometimes, between communities or will they approach the matter in a more collaborative spirit to maximise benefits?

To an extent, this must depend on how many communities take up the offer in each borough or district and the resources available to local authorities to support the process.

An announcement is due shortly from the Department of Communities and Local Government about the level of funding to be made available to local authorities to support Neighbourhood Planning and how that is to be used. The Government estimates that a Plan could cost anything from between £17,000 and £63,000.

Our discussions with parish councils and local authorities indicate that local people want support to draw up plans for themselves – to take ownership of the process rather than have specialist advisors offering to do their plans for them. It seems that what parishes and forums are looking for is guidance and support through a regulatory process that may appear daunting and complicated.

With the recent publication of the Neighbourhood Planning regulations which come into force on 6th April, many parishes and neighbourhoods may be wondering how they will undertake, and pay for, various requirements, such as compiling a robust evidence base needed to underpin a plan, undertaking effective community engagement and preparing the Sustainability Appraisal where required (a joint assessment of a Plan’s environmental, social and economic impacts).

The estimated cost, based on the cost of consultants or local authority planners’ time, of preparing a typical Sustainability Appraisal alone is between £10,000 and £30,000[1].

However, there is much you can do for yourself.  For example, according to Sustainability Consultants Levett-Therivel, reports indicate that a Sustainability Appraisal can be done for much less than this, maybe for free, if local residents are willing to do the work themselves.

Carrying out a ‘DIY SA’ also has the advantage of making sure that local residents develop an interest and understanding of the local area, and can make sure that the plan is effectively put into action.

There are various toolkits already available to help you through your own development of a Neighbourhood Plan, so don’t feel that you can’t do it for yourselves should you want to.

The proof is in the pudding with Neighbourhood Plans – so you may be able to have your pudding and eat it, just as long as you can stay the course, as Neighbourhood Plans are more a marathon than a sprint.

[1] Source: DIY SA: Sustainability Appraisal of Neighbourhood Plans, Levett-Therivel sustainability consultants, August 2011

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