Neighbourhood plans are being put together by parish councils and neighbourhood forums in many parts of the country (over 1,500 now, with 100 that have reached the stage of independent examination). Yet there remain very few plans in London that are close to the finishing line.
This may be because planning in London is more complicated. Or developers more powerful. Or local authority planning departments more resistant to the idea of ‘amateur planners’. The pattern across different boroughs varies significantly, giving some support to this last possibility. But a major reason may be because local resident and community groups feel that a neighbourhood plan cannot make any real difference.
We hope that the experience of the St Quintin and Woodlands Neighbourhood Forum shows that a real difference can be made. Several proposed policies in our neighbourhood plan were opposed by the Council at the start. Some policies continued to be ‘strongly opposed’ by the Council right up to the stage of independent examination.
But we have stuck to the principle, as set out by the Government and stated in the National Planning Policy Framework, that Neighbourhood planning provides a powerful set of tools for local people to ensure that they get the right types of development for their community.
The Examination of the St Quintin and Woodlands Neighbourhood Plan has confirmed this principle. It supports policy proposals on which the Council argued a lack of ‘general conformity’, but where the level of detail in the relevant Council policy could not be justified as ‘strategic’. The ‘general’ in general conformity means what it says, as the High Court decided in the Tattenhall case. Neighbourhood planners should be encouraged by this outcome.
The Examination has also tested the national criteria for designation of Local Green Space, in a situation where a landowner and developer (on being notified that a neighbourhood plan was in preparation) then attempted to beat the Draft Plan to the finishing post via submitting a full-scale planning application for a housing development on an undeveloped backland site.
Detailed research on the planning history of a site, coupled with very strong evidence of local interest and support, can indeed prove a ‘powerful tool’ which developers cannot simply brush aside. The Local Green Space designation has been supported by the Examiner in this case.
Similar situations have arisen in many rural areas and around villages and market towns. We are not aware of this scenario arising before in a London context.
Neighbourhood plans involve a lot of work and the processes involved can be slow or strung out by reluctant planning authorities. The Government is taking steps to speed up and streamline the process, in the new Housing and Planning Bill. Meanwhile the StQW Neighbourhood Forum will be preparing for the next stage, of a local referendum that will seal the outcome for which local residents and businesses have worked long and hard.