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What will the Neighbours Think?

Following yesterday’s Queen’s Speech which introduced proposed changes to the current planning system, Tony Burton from CPRE London and Neighbourhood Planners London shares his thoughts on how neighbourhood planning is gaining momentum in London and further afield

Neighbourhood Planning Momentum Grows The coincidence of London's 26th neighbourhood plan getting a green light at referendum in Crofton Park and Honor Oak Park with the first real progress on the Government's planning reforms in the Queen's Speech is a reminder of the continuing success of the quiet revolution that is neighbourhood planning. The success rates of neighbourhood plans at referendum can only leave politicians envious. Nine in every ten voters in Crofton Park and Honor Oak Park put their cross against a YES vote for the neighbourhood plan which now takes immediate legal force. It is the latest in a series of neighbourhood planning successes which has seen nearly 70 communities across London come together to establish neighbourhood forums. As Neighbourhood Planners.London's map of progress shows one third of these forums now have plans in force and more are in the pipeline. Across England around 1,300 neighbourhood plans are in force - quadruple the number of Local Plans. After some initial uncertainty there are growing signs that the Government is backing more neighbourhood planning as part of its wider planning reforms, especially in urban areas. Planning Minister Stuart Andrew has said "I am keen to get communities involved much earlier on and shape the areas where they live....Neighbourhood planning will remain and on a statutory basis" and Secretary of State Michael Gove has been effusive in saying "We want a planning system where people can feel confident that beauty is taken seriously, that the environment is benefiting, that the money will be there to support their infrastructure, and that ultimately the community has a role in determining what is right. What we want to do, and I think what everyone really wants to do, is make sure that in every part of the country there are up-to-date, thoughtful, sensitive plans that have the maximum amount of community buy-in. This follows the Government's own research into the impacts which concluded "Neighbourhood planning clearly provides benefits to communities and the built environment where conditions are supportive”. Those "supportive conditions" are vital. There are still too many obstructive local politicians or planning professionals and some shocking examples of local communities being thwarted in exercising their legal rights to prepare a neighbourhood plan. Both Deptford and Mill Hill have been blocked from renewing the five year term of their neighbourhood forum despite making strong progress and receiving significant financial support from the Government. Wimbledon's application to set up a forum and define a neighbourhood area was blocked despite 1,100 separate representations in support. Nine boroughs remain neighbourhood planning "deserts" where no neighbourhood forum has been agreed. It is also taking too long for many communities to draw up plans and the number of new forums being set up has declined. Mayor Khan has also been deafeningly silent on the role of neighbourhood planning despite the importance of effective community engagement being central to his priorities for "good growth" in London. The Government's planning reforms are the next opportunity to accelerate neighbourhood planning and support communities directly to shape the future of their own neighbourhoods. This will need more support to help forums and a shift in the culture of many London boroughs. Giving neighbourhood forums the same powers as parish councils in deciding how the local share of the new infrastructure levy will be spent would be transformative. Mayor Khan can also bring the influence of the GLA to bear and the strengthening of planning policies and the use of codes for design and beauty will also put the spotlight on neighbourhood level priorities and consent. Neighbourhood planning has come of age in just ten years. The concept has proven its worth. Now it is the time to realise its potential.

Tony Burton CBE is a community campaigner and land use planner who has worked in senior roles at CPRE and the National Trust and founded Civic Voice. He convenes Neighbourhood Planners.London, is secretary of his local civic society in Mitcham and chairs CPRE London and Community Review Groups in Old Oak & Park Royal and Dacorum. Tony can be found on Twitter as @Tony4Place


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