The National Association of Local Councils (NALC) said today (18th October) that local (parish and town) councils were keen to embrace neighbourhood planning to improve their communities but were being put off as it was unclear what weight they were given in the planning process especially where there was no local plan or 5 year land supply.
NALC said that local councils were embracing neighbourhood planning to shape and influence development in their area; but their influence and status in the planning system needed to be enhanced if the potential of neighbourhood planning was to be achieved and people not put off the process because the plans were ignored.
In evidence given to the Neighbourhood Planning Public Bill committee, NALC said that where local councils are undertaking neighbourhood planning they are leading to more houses being built than in non-neighbourhood planning areas- around 10% extra according to research.
Jonathan Owen, NALC’s chief executive, said to the committee: “NALC broadly welcomes the Neighbourhood Planning Bill, which will address many of the problems parishes have experienced by giving more weight to plans earlier in the process and making it easier to modify plans and neighbourhood areas.
“But we are very much concerned about the legal weight of neighbourhood plans as they sometimes appear to be ridden roughshod over by certain developers and not given proper consideration at times by other parts of local government. We want this bill to clear this confusion up.”
NALC believes the bill could be strengthened to principally accelerate and incentivise neighbourhood planning, as well as giving communities more rights within the planning process, improving financial benefits from development and further strengthening local democracy.
After all, this process of neighbourhood planning is exciting local people and generating a huge community interest, encouraging citizens to engage with often difficult local issues and often becoming more involved in the community including the work of local councils. The government must make sure these raised expectations are not crushed.
Thousands of volunteers across the country are being mobilised by local councils to develop neighbourhood plans, with around 360,000 electors engaged in the process and casting their vote through local referendums.
Jonathan Owen, chief executive of NALC, concluded that: “Neighbourhood Plans are a way to give local people greater influence and control over the future development of their communities. It is good to see that the government recognises this and that these plans are a mechanism to allow communities to influence the building of housing within their own area more directly.
But we believe more can be done and we are ready to discuss with the government our ideas about how we can support and incentivise communities to take up these relatively new statutory powers and opportunities.”