Giving communities more power in planning local development

Written by Elena Collins on 7 March 2013

As part of the government's localism agenda, voters in the Eden Valley area around Brough, in Cumbria, will vote today in the first planning referendum in the UK.

Housing in Cumbria
Housing in Cumbria

If the referendum wins a majority, the legislation would put power into the hands of local residents and businesses. A new group would be formed to represent 17 parish councils, in which it will decide on planning for housing and infrastructure.

Neighbourhood planning was introduced through the Localism Act 2011 and the Neighbourhood planning legislation came into effect in April 2012 with the ambition to give communities the power to:

·  Agree a neighbourhood development plan

·  Make a neighbourhood development order

·  Make a Community Right to Build order

The government says hundreds of similar groups across England have expressed an interest in neighbourhood planning. On Gov.uk, the Neighbourhood plan is described a plan that allows ''local people to get the right type of development for their community, but the plans must still meet the needs of the wider area. In most cases we expect this will mean that neighbourhood plans will have to take into account the local council’s assessment of housing and other development needs in the area.''

A neighbourhood development would mainly allow planning decisions on where new homes and offices should be built and what they should look like. However, the neighbourhood plans would not have the power to block development outright, or override the strategic objectives of the local district council.  Ministers have explain that local people will be provided with the opportunity to influence policy making on how their local towns should be developed and where housing could be created

It appears that developers and professional planning organisations, support the principle of neighbourhood planning. The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) has also committed to making neighbourhood planning a success. It is providing up to £50 million until March 2015 to support local councils. They have also supported over 200 'front runners' projects that are helping local communities, local councils and the government learn about how neighbourhood planning is working in practice and providing further funding to 4 organisations already offering support on neighbourhood planning. If the local referendum wins and if the plan is accepted, it has legal force.

It remains debatable if this policy could be adopted on a city level. Yet, it this a new opportunity for local people to be involved in planning policies in the UK.