So the Localism Act is now on the statute book but what are the next steps for one of its key components – neighbourhood planning? In this guest post, Crispin Moor from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) shares some of his thoughts:
Action for Market Towns (AMT) held a symposium last month for its members to discuss Land Use Planning reforms, especially neighbourhood level planning and views on the draft National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). I was helping frame the discussion on these matters. And in this I was ably opposed by Ben Cowell from the National Trust who have been leading quite a noisy campaign against the Government’s NPPF consultation draft.
I was probably being quietly dismissed by many delegates as just the man from the ministry toeing a Treasury line, though I hope not. As the Prime Minister and other ministers have made very clear, this is not an exercise in concreting our countryside but in getting the balance right between our local and national economic development needs whilst still caring for and, yes, protecting our valued landscapes.
Certainly this is one formal consultation that the Government is taking and managing very properly and very seriously. Some of Defra’s priorities in this agenda include:
– the ongoing Rural Economy Growth Review and supporting the growth of our rural economies;
– sustainable development (of course);
– supporting policies in the Natural Environment white paper including for our protected areas (NPAs, AONBs, SSSIs and Local Wildlife Sites).
Whether the final NPPF will live up to the sometimes lofty demands of National Trust and Campaign to Protect Rural England members I really don’t know. But we should not lose sight of the fact that our planning system is what allows local societies to choose between different development options and paths – but without dodging their proper responsibilities in this area.
Neighbourhood planning and elected local councils and councillors are central to making this machine work as far as possible for the benefit of all.
So now that the Localism Bill is, finally, the Localism Act I do hope that many AMT members (as well as other networks) will make these new processes work well for their communities – working well with local councillors and councils and with local planning authorities.
There is not going to be an old fashioned dirigiste big state solution to local planning challenges. The Prime Minister, Communities and Local Government minister Greg Clark and other ministers (including in Defra) have made this crystal clear.
So good luck to all the neighbourhood forums, development trusts and especially local (parish and town) councils as they turn their excellent attentions to using these reforms to support positive local change and development.
Crispin Moor is from Defra’s Rural Communities Policy Unit