There are 126 Neighbourhood Planning Frontrunners and a further fifth wave of funding will be announced soon. The frontrunner programme was intended to test this new approach to planning before the Localism bill is enacted. That now appears imminent. So how have the frontrunners been approaching the process, what have they spent the funding on and what advice would they give to others?
Our survey, undertaken at the end of October 2011 sought to find out. Responses were received from 45 of the frontrunners, representing an excellent cross section of authorities across the country.
- The vast majority of frontrunner neighbourhood plans are being led by communities – only 5 of the 45 which responded were local authority led.
- Most respondents are unclear what the core purpose of their neighbourhood plan will be and what form it will take beyond the inclusion of general policies and principles. Conversely nearly all were absolutely clear what their plan will not include. For example more than 60% of the respondents said their plan would not include information on the mix and quantum of development for the area.
- However, more than 80% of respondents said that resistance to growth was not a challenge for them.
- In rural parished areas it is proving much more straightforward to define neighbourhood plan boundaries than in unparished urban locations.
- Unsurprisingly, the biggest challenges are time and resources for the groups preparing the plans. Lack of knowledge and understanding of the planning system was also cited as an obstacle.
- Establishing effective governance including involvement of local politicians is seen as an important task at the outset of the plan making process.
- The majority of respondents see the process from commencement to submission for examination taking at least 18 months.
- Funding is generally being spread between officer support and passing directly to the Parish or Neighbourhood Forum. Some earmarked the funding for document production, the examination and referendum.
- There is a huge variety of approaches being followed by the frontrunners and this should please ministers – but it remains unclear what some plans will actually deliver.
- Few of the frontrunners appear to be ‘planning for growth’ i.e.: establishing higher development targets than established in local plans.
- How many communities will have the stamina for an 18 month neighbourhood plan process? Add in the examination process and the referendum and this could be longer. How many will make it to the finish line?
- Most of those who responded said that communities lack resources and expertise – how will local authorities be able to help? Will they provide dedicated support through Neighbourhood Planning officers?
- Neighbourhood Planning provides plenty of opportunities for built environment professionals with knowledge of the planning system to make their contribution to the big society.
- Agree a project plan and terms of reference for the Forum or Steering Group at the outset. Identify a timetable for production of the plan.
- Identify strong leaders who can drive the process forward.
- Try and involve all in the process: think partnership – don’t be afraid to speak to businesses and developers.
- Make use of social media and other outreach techniques to engage with as much as the community as possible.
- Make use of existing groups and forums, their outreach, governance structures and any community-led plans previously prepared. They are an excellent basis for taking the process forward.
- Make use of CLG funding and advice, particularly those that have been awarded funding expressly for that purpose, but also make use of the wealth of free material published and on-line.
- Consider whether a Neighbourhood Plan is the right vehicle for what you want to achieve.
- Identify any and all policy issues that might need considering in the Plan, particularly those where issues of general conformity might arise.
- Local authorities should identify and provide sufficient resources to help the process.
As qualifying bodies for the CLG frontrunner funding, the survey purposely focussed on local authorities
Surveys were sent to all 126 frontrunners. Responses were received from 45: representing a 36% response rate.
Responses were received from across the country, in both rural and urban areas, parished and unparished.
CLG have announced four rounds, or waves, of funding for Neighbourhood Planning rontrunners. The deadline for submissions for a fifth wave was 5 November.
Four organisations have received funding from CLG to assist communities in planning: Planning Aid, Locality, NALC and the Prince’s Foundation.