By Professor Gavin Parker, Professor of Planning Studies, University of Reading
The passing of the Neighbourhood Planning Bill today took many by surprise, as the government pushed it through and the House of Lords backed amendments to the Bill just before Parliament was dissolved ahead of June’s snap General Election.
The new Neighbourhood Planning Act builds from the 2011 Localism Act and refines the ways in which members of the public can engage with and develop plans for their local areas. Myself and PhD Researcher Katherine Salter in the Department of Real Estate and Planning department at the University of Reading have worked on several strands of research that have influenced government in thinking about how neighbourhood planning has progressed and could be altered.
Some of the amendments discussed in Parliament were aimed at altering the examination stage of neighbourhood plans, and we – along with Hannah Hickman at the University of the West of England – have recently carried out research looking into the examining of neighbourhood plans. This is where an independent inspector looks at the Plan to check it passes the tests set out for such documents by government.
We have informed the proposed legislative changes by preparing an extensive briefing document outlining our findings, after analysing feedback and comments from those who had examined the majority of neighbourhood plans over the past five years. See the full briefing document here.
This was sent to a variety of influencers, including the Department of Communities and Local Government and relevant ministers and peers recently.
Our suggested improvements included:
- Mandatory training for those examining local plans;
- Establishing a peer review system and allowing examiners to share information and seek advice;
- Greater clarity on what can and cannot be included in a neighbourhood plan;
- Systematic filing of existing documents for neighbourhood planning groups;
- Increasing awareness of what happens after the examination stage;
- Ensuring local planning authority officers have the required knowledge to offer advice and support.
Parliament is set to be dissolved on May 3, and any legislation yet to receive royal assent after this date will effectively be put back to square one. We expected the Neighbourhood Planning Bill to be one victim of the surprise election announcement but, evidently, it has been waved through.
The amendments address some of our concerns about the examination stage of neighbourhood plans. However, there are discussions to be had on the effect it will have on local planning and how the changes will be interpreted and acted upon by local authorities. The regulations associated with this new Act, and new guidance that is sure to follow, is where much of our work can now gain traction.
We have already planned a co-created Neighbourhood Planning ‘summit’ event to take place at the University on 6 June next year. In addition to enabling knowledge exchange based on experience of participants over the past six years, the event will consider the impact of the Act’s new legal and technical parameters for community-led planning activity.
Further details will be announced over the course of the next few months. Please contact Professor Gavin Parker at firstname.lastname@example.org for information.