More ‘Plain English’…But Not Much!

I said I’d give some further thoughts on the government’s ‘Plain English’ guide to the Localism Bill. It certainly is easier to read than the bill itself, but neither Bill nor ‘Guide’ really tell us anything more about the Community Right Build than has already appeared in briefing papers in advance of the Bill; much less, in fact. This is all the guide has to say about the CRTB:

Community Right to Build
As part of neighbourhood planning, the Bill will give groups of local people the ability to bring forward small developments. These might include new homes, businesses and shops. The benefits of the development, for example, profits made from letting the homes, will stay within the community.

So the CRTB will be treated as a particular case of a wider ‘Neighbourhood Plan’ initiative, about which the Guide has rather more to say, including:

Neighbourhood planning will allow people to come together through a local parish council or neighbourhood forum and say where they think new houses, businesses and shops should go – and what they should look like. These neighbourhood development plans could be very simple, or go into considerable detail where people want. Local communities would also be able to grant full or outline planning permission in areas where they most want to see new homes and businesses, making it easier and quicker for development to go ahead.

Provided a neighbourhood development plan is in line with national planning policy, with the strategic vision for the wider area set by the local authority, and with other legal requirements, local people will be able to vote on it in a referendum. If the plan is approved by a majority, then the local authority will bring it into force’. 

Note the phrase ‘in line with national planning policy’. Presumably this means the Planning Policy Statements which cover issues such as sustainable development, the Green Belt and the development of historic buildings and landscapes. For instance, PPS7 (‘Sustainable Development in Rural Areas’) reinforces the assumption against small-scale rural development contained in other Planning Policy Statements:

New building development in the open countryside away from existing settlements, or outside areas allocated for development in development plans, should be strictly controlled.

And the new Neighbourhood Plans will not just have to be broadly compatible with national planning policy; it seems they will also have to take full account of local housing delivery targets. Since the Coalition abolished the Regional Spatial Strategies, these are now to be set at District Council level and enshrined in the Local Development Framework. An enquiry from Head of Planning at Wycombe District Council to the CLG elicited this response, published on the Planning Officers’ Society website:

The intention is that a neighbourhood plan cannot promote less housing and economic development than envisaged in the development plan, because a Neighbourhood Plan must be in “general conformity” with the strategic elements of the development plan. The national planning policy framework will define housing and economic development policies in the development plan as “strategic”.

Nigel Kersey (Planning Delivery & Performance Division, DCLG)

So the new Neighbourhood Plans certainly aren’t a free-for-all, the ‘nimby charter’ that most commentators have been expecting. And if the Community Right to Build is simply a small ‘Neighbourhood Plan’, does that imply it will be similarly constrained? We’ll have to wait and see!

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