Who Needs a Neighbourhood Plan?
A decision will be made next Thursday on whether eight new houses will be built in your village. Here is the story. Read on and see what you think.
Neighbourhood Plans have been going since 2011. They are intended to give local people a chance to shape the future of their communities.
In towns and cities people don’t necessarily feel part of a “community”. However, a parish boundary defines a village community nicely and Neighbourhood Plans have been more popular in rural areas than anywhere. Our village plan was launched in 2020.
How does the Plan work? It means a village can become (sort of) its own planning authority, determining where new building takes place, how much, and of what kind. I say “sort of” because the Plan still has to meet broad policy guidelines set by its area authority. Here are some other key points:
If a Plan is recognised, there is a financial incentive. The village gets 25% of the levy paid by developers and can spend it on improving village amenities. Could amount to tens of thousands of pounds.
There is a built-in requirement to demonstrate community support. To qualify a Plan has to show villagers have been consulted and, to close out the process, parishioners vote on the plan in a referendum.
Here are some of the problems that have been experienced here and elsewhere:
Most plans tend to take a long time, move slowly and, in one way or another, cost money. The HB plan has support from a qualified planner and so far its costs (not including volunteer time, of course) have been covered by grants. But it is hard to get a broad spectrum of community members to serve on steering groups.
Planning issues are complex. There are many angles requiring specialist knowledge. A working group may struggle, even when, as above, specialist advice is available.
A plan can alert people in the village to their own interests. I heard about a case where, although the Plan had formed a view on preferred sites, a property owner moved quickly to put his land on sale to a developer, who preferred it and scuppered the Plan. There is no rule that freezes development while the Plan is in progress.
It is common to kick off with an opinion survey. In our village perhaps 10% of the adult population replied. Asked what they wanted, a majority said they wanted a village shop. They also wanted affordable housing and carbon neutral homes. Just under 36% favoured up to 5 new houses, a further 46% favoured more. So a development of up to 10 homes looks OK. And 75% of respondents favoured keeping some green spaces in the village.
These results are open for anyone to see on the village website.
This gives a private developer an opening, a chance to tailor a proposal to meet these conditions — and that’s exactly what has happened. A second Station Road proposal for eight homes will go before the Taunton Deane Planning Committee on January 19. (The last one was refused in 2019 and also failed on appeal). Naturally the new plan is much improved.
If you are so minded, you could speak at this meeting. To do so you will have to submit a written statement by next Tuesday morning.
Our Parish Council opposes this application, but its role is still only advisory and its decision was not unanimous. Some were in favour of talking to the developer, and tailoring the proposal further. Others were dead against. The Taunton Deane planning officer supports the plan and his report explains why.
There will be villagers speaking both for and against.
If it passes the village gets the following: a free community shop premises, four affordable homes, four open market homes, all homes energy-efficient above current requirements. There will still be money to spend on other village amenities.
But our community will have lost some of the the initiative which is the point of a Neighbourhood Plan.
So what of the question raised by this post? You could say our Neighbourhood Plan has already made a difference. But another lesson is: move quickly or your Neighbourhood Plan might be overtaken by events. Maybe believers in the concept could lobby government to freeze development while a Plan is in progress. For us, it will play out next week.
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Please see below a Somerset Council report, circulated by our local councillor Sarah Wakefield