Campaigners challenge the Government on neighbourhood planning

Campaigners are urging Government to back up its pledge to give added strength to neighbourhood planning. After a debate on the Housing and Planning Bill on Monday (9 May).

Planning minister Brandon Lewis once again rejected a Lords amendment tabled by Baroness Parminter to enable communities with a complete or emerging neighbourhood plan to appeal against decisions that conflicted with that plan.

Citing his opposition to extending third party rights in the planning system, Mr Lewis achieved parliamentary support to reinstate the Government’s own amendment to support neighbourhood planning: a clause to ensure complete plans are referred to in decisions.

The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), Civic Voice and the National Association of Local Councils (NALC) are disappointed that the Government has established a clause that adds nothing to standard practice, but are heartened by Mr Lewis’s pledge to ‘work with colleagues to ensure that neighbourhood plans enjoy the primacy that we intend them to have in planning law’.

The groups 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. The groups argue that the secretary of state should incorporate the principles of a ‘neighbourhood right to be heard’, as also tabled (and subsequently withdrawn) by Baroness Parminter on Tuesday (10 May), into secondary legislation or existing planning policy. These principles 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 body’s recommendations; and

  • guidance on and power to call-in decisions that do not accord with the plan

Neighbourhood plans represent local aspirations and have been shown to increase the number of homes planned locally [3]. The House of Lords twice voted to introduce Baroness Parminter’s amendment establishing a neighbourhood right of appeal, and the Government twice rejected it.

It has been argued by many, including some MPs, that the Government’s amendment in lieu ‘does not go far enough’ beyond existing good practice in supporting neighbourhood planning. 

Councillor Ken Browse, chairman, National Association of Local Councils (NALC), said: “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.

“I look forward to working with the government and others to strengthen neighbourhood planning to ensure communities really are in the driving seat of how their places grow and develop.”

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.”

Sarah James, head of policy, 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".

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