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Neighbourhood planning – the London experience

London / iStock-931497792

Neighbourhood planning brings many benefits to local communities, says Tony Burton

It is eight years since pioneering communities exercised their rights to produce neighbourhood plans. The strong take-up is testimony to the energy and commitment of local volunteers. London has played a strong role in the growth of the neighbourhood planning movement despite its complexity and the additional need to set up new neighbourhood forums to take on the task.

As the volunteer-led network for neighbourhood planners in the capital, Neighbourhood Planners.London has published research by Publica on the experience, including the potential for less well-advantaged communities.

More than 120 communities have explored neighbourhood planning and 79 neighbourhood forums have been designated; 13 forums have completed plans and the number of completed plans is accelerating. The success of plans at referendum is clear-cut.

"Neighbourhood planning is proving its worth in a wide variety of places, including some of the least advatnaged"

But there are still nine boroughs without registered forums and it is taking 49 months on average for forums to take a plan from designation to referendum. London faces a growing number of forums becoming stuck after designation and the number of new forums coming on stream has declined from a peak of 18 to two a year.

The geography of neighbourhood planning in London presents a complex picture. There is no clear correlation with levels of deprivation, home ownership or borough politics. Neighbourhood planning is proving its worth in a wide variety of places, including some of the least advantaged.  

Civic-minded volunteers are using neighbourhood planning to make a real difference but too often face obstacles and a lack of support from established institutions. There are lessons here for the mayor, London councils – and the government, whose support programme must adapt to make sure the funds it provides are adequate.

The right of neighbourhood forums to access additional funds and support should be restored. Neighbourhood planning needs to be valued as much for how it brings people together and inspires projects and initiatives to improve the local quality of life as for the policies in a neighbourhood plan. Local communities need more incentives to support them at different stages on the road to producing a neighbourhood plan. They also need more direct influence over spending some of the funds generated by the community infrastructure levy on the development that follows.

You can find our two reports undertaken with Publica and Trust for London here: www.neighbourhoodplanners.london

Tony Burton is convener of Neighbourhood Planners.London

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