Friday, 14 January 2011

Localism Bill: Neighbourhood Planning

This is the second in a series looking at various aspects of the Localism Bill.

Just as the Localism Bill removes the regional tier of the planning hierarchy in every region other than London, it also creates a new one: the neighbourhood. Neighbourhood planning authorities are envisaged as either being superimposed on existing structures, so a civil parish could also be a neighbourhood for planning purposes; or as the area of operation of less formal groups designated as "neighbourhood forums". Each will produce a neighbourhood plan.

This will impact on London in a number of ways. Firstly, planning will potentially be split between three tiers of local governance: the mayor, the boroughs and neighbourhoods. Secondly, the planning incentive for forming a parish council will be lost as the enhanced planning powers will be available to any group. Finally, there is potential for the less formal neighbourhood forums to be short-lived or through attrition become dominated by an individual or group.

There are also significant limitations to the neighbourhood plans which may affect their efficacy and attractiveness to communities. They cannot cross borough lines. This is an old restriction, which dates back to local government reforms in the 19th century. It was also a potential problem for the proposal to create a parish council for Thamesmead which straddles Bexley and Greenwich.

However, the most significant limitation of neighbourhood planning in London will most likely be the frustration that communities will have when they realise they must conform to national planning guidelines, the London Plan and their local authority development plan. How much impact will these community groups have, given these restrictions? How will they go about navigating these policy documents? Where will the skills come from? Is their planning experience going to consist of being repeatedly told their planning decisions are invalid?