Next steps for neighbourhood planning?

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


  1. Southwell Town Council, Nottinghamshire, is trying hard to develop its own Neighbourhood Plan, after the bitter expereince of not being listened to by both County and District Councils. This is especially true following the ‘consultation’ over the adopted Local Development Plan. We are awaiting the outcome of the Housing Area Allocation during which the whole community expressed its opinion. This has given us an understanding of how to approach local planningm, and galvanising opinion in the town.

    However, the Newark and Sherwood District Council has not offered any help, and seems to place obstacles in the way of the town, there has been obfuscation, and every opportunity to delay, one of the loatest being ‘lack of guidance from DCLG’.

    The absence of mechanisms to ensure or require collaboration in the Act is a potential stumbling block, as the the requirement to be open about subsequent funding arrangements.

    We, at Southwell Town have agreed to to allow ‘double taxation’ ie paying for things or services at Parish and higher tier, but the lack of openess at the higher tiers has to be seen to be believed. This is particularly true of their ‘central’ or ‘adminsitration’ costs that are wrapped in secrecy. In our higher tiers, these costs are often over 50% of the service delivery costs, and must be available to lower tier communities if these are taking over delivery of services etc.

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