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06/04/2022

Communities should discuss gain with developers on neighbourhood plans

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Neighbourhood planning, as practiced, does not give enough sway to communities to negotiate planning gain directly with developers, says Charles Welsh.

It does not seem an accepted part of neighbourhood planning that communities can make housing allocations that are conditional on a negotiated level of planning gain, in a win-win deal with landowners.

Ordinarily, planning gain is secured at district level in a formulaic, top-down process. But in locations where development is not normally allowed by the extant local plan (principally in and around rural settlements), a neighbourhood plan can by this means allow the creation of community assets. These might include public open space, locally targeted affordable housing, live-work units, a community hall, areas of tree planting (in conjunction with the Forestry Commission), allotments or conceivably more adventurous agricultural endeavours in the manner of eco-villages. 

The limits are not fixed. Having regard to the history, setting and existing spatial arrangement of the settlement, they are a function of the amount and quality of new housing the community considers acceptable in relation to the perceived benefit to be derived in exchange.

“Ordinarily, planning gain is secured at district level in a formulaic, top-down process”

Community consultation on “constraints and opportunities” allows options to be refined and stakeholders to own the process. Spatial matters lead then to forming a masterplan on which policy is based.

While neighbourhood plan consultants are normally planners, this spatial approach together with the identification of development opportunities, suggests architects might play a leading role. Deal-making involves comparative development land valuations and communities should also have access to surveyors in the process of securing a deal in principle with landowners.

There will be issues as to how this might work in urban and suburban areas where the presumption against development is not as marked in extant policy and where the leverage to be applied might not be as great. More broadly, clarification is required as to how local community planning can be integrated with district planning in identifying and meeting strategic objectives.

So whilst there is unrealised potential in the system, Mr Gove might accept the process should be developed and refined as a means of empowering communities to act for themselves in the market - and also as a function of local levelling-up.

Charles Welsh MRTPI is a freelance architect and planner

Image credit | Shutterstock

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