PluggedIN: Planning at neighbourhood level

Author: Alex Thomson, in the MJ   |  

Whilst national media coverage has focused on the National Planning Policy Framework, the local government community has due cause to cast its eyes to the lowest, rather than highest, rung of our future planning system.

In recognition of the profound changes underway, we at Localis have produced a report – Power to the People – in partnership with Birmingham City Council and Land Securities which outlines how the new system of neighbourhood planning will work, and how it may best produce a spirit of collaboration in individual communities, as well as delivering national growth across the board.

With the Government estimating that within a decade over half of all neighbourhoods will adopt a plan, there is an imminent need to consider previous best practice in the planning process.

Drawing lessons from a series of case studies from across the country, our report concludes that residents, developers and local authorities all have much to gain from a more open system built upon co-operation and honesty.

There are, the report shows, numerous positive examples of previous resident-developer dialogue such as a recent development of flats in Wandsworth where initial resident scepticism was offset by a developer willing to meet with locals at an early stage, and discuss potential avenues (including upgrading existing residents’ accomodation) to make the proposed development more attractive.

Early intervention, it shows, is key.

It also illustrates how councils such as Birmingham and South Hams have armed community groups with the means to plan – be it through lending officer time, providing flowcharts and maps outlining the planning system, and holding workshops to answer residents’ queries.

Above all, the report stresses, that there is a latent desire for people to shape their locality, and the skill-sets which allow communities to do so are more widespread than always suggested. These require an intuitive system, and an atmosphere where all stakeholders are prepared to make compromises, but by all sides being honest and up-front, and accepting that no-one will get all of what they want all of the time, there is much to be hopeful about.

Going forward, Power to the People urges the government to make good on its pledges to devolve financial incentives – particularly the Community Infrastructure Levy and New Homes Bonus – to the planners of tomorrow.

It stresses the financial role developers may play in resourcing (whilst not dictating) plans, and how small local businesses may have a key role in mediating between interests inside and outside the locality.

With all sides pulling together, neighbourhood planning can produce the complete opposite of NIMBYism – positive, measured and consensual development. It has the potential to unclog our stagnant planning system, and drive our economy forward in the years ahead. ‘Power to the People’ is available to download from the Localis website .