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Government urged to fortify neighbourhood planning

Words: Laura Edgar
Neighbourhood planning

Campaigners are calling on the government to back up its pledge to give added strength to neighbourhood planning.

This follows a debate on the Housing and Planning Act, before it became law on 12 May, in which housing minister Brandon Lewis rejected a Lords amendment, tabled by Baroness Parminter, to give parish councils and neighbourhood forums a limited right of appeal on planning decisions. 

In a later ping-pong session Lady Parminter withdrew the amendment.

Instead, Lewis, after citing his opposition to extending third-party rights in the planning system, went on to gain support from MPs to reinstate the government’s own amendment to support neighbourhood planning. This means plans are to be referred to in decisions.

Now, the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), Civic Voice and the National Association of Local Councils (NALC) have expressed their disappointment that the government has inserted a measure that “adds nothing to standard practice”.

But they do support Lewis’s promise to “work with colleagues to ensure that neighbourhood plans enjoy the primacy that we intend them to have in planning law”.

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.”

The organisations 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”.

They argue that Lady Parminter’s neighbourhood right to be heard should be incorporated into secondary legislation or existing planning policy.

The policy, according to the group, 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 of that body’s recommendation.

  • Guidance on and power to call in decisions that do not accord with the plan.

Sarah James, head of policy at 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".

Ken Browse, chairman of NALC, added: “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.”

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