REVIEW: Neighbourhood Planning in London

Image6-8pm, Thursday 16th January 2013

Committee Rooms 1 and 2, Camden Town Hall, Judd Street, London WC1H 9JE

Katherine Salter (Planning Policy Officer, DCLG) kicked off the evening by looking at “The What and The How” of Neighbourhood Planning. Kat reiterated that neighbourhood groups are given power (to make planning policy or grant planning permission), responsibility (in meeting need and supporting growth) and investment (such as through the Community Infrastructure Levy).

Across the country there are 4 adopted neighbourhood plans: Eden, Thame, St James, and Lynton & Lynmouth, each with varying numbers of policies. 2 neighbourhood plans have passed referendum, with the only one in London at this stage being Norland in Kensington & Chelsea.

Kat’s presentation considered whether neighbourhood planning had made any difference. She cited examples where neighbourhood planning had helped improve the standing and status of community groups and their relations with their local planning authorities. Some adopted neighbourhood plan areas have now had planning applications assessed against their policies, showing that the policies can have a big impact on planning decisions.

In terms of resources, LPAs can benefit from up to £30,000 of funding (subject to certain criteria and stages) including £5,000 at designation, £5,000 at submission and £20,000 following a successful examination.

Brian O’Donnell (Strategic Planning and Implementation Manager, London Borough of Camden) followed up with his presentation looking at the 5 forums which have been approved in the borough (more than any other borough in London). Camden considers draft neighbourhood forum applications before they are formally submitted to assist the neighbourhood group and the council also provides a ‘mediation’ role where needed to help with problem solving and addressing conflicts.

Brian highlighted that it is important for potential neighbourhood forum applicants to carefully consider “why they want to do a neighbourhood plan?” as there may be other ways of achieving what they desire, and the neighbourhood plan process can be time and resource intensive. Nevertheless, when applications do come forward, Camden is very keen on forums being representative of their areas across the whole spectrum of the community.

The case study of Kentish Town Neighbourhood Forum was presented as an interesting example of how neighbourhood forum boundary areas evolve in dense urban areas. The original boundary was amended by including an adjacent interested group (to the north), but then omitting 2 other neighbourhood groups (to the south) who wanted to pursue their own neighbourhood plan. The involvement of local councillors was useful in meeting the respective groups and agreeing a boundary as a compromise.

Brian also highlighted the difficulties in drafting policies. They must represent what the community want and be easy to understand, whilst, simultaneously, be useful for development management purposes and withstand appeal, challenge and scrutiny. It was also noted that it can be difficult for the council to budget and provide staff resource effectively for neighbourhood planning activities due to the timescales and demands being dictated largely ‘external’ to the council.

John Romanski and Adam Brown (Planning Aid England) were the final speakers for the event. They explained that Planning Aid is very much about empowering communities rather than writing policies and doing the work for them. They highlighted the need to clearly separate out land use planning policies from non-planning policies to ensure they do not get confused and assist with the examination and referendum.

John also recommended that “To get a plan, you need a plan”, or, in other words, that neighbourhood groups need to have effective project plans and management in place to be able to deliver the neighbourhood plan – a task which Planning Aid England assists with. From experience across England, it has been noted that the ‘journey’ of creating a dialogue between the local council and a neighbourhood group is sometimes just as beneficial as having the neighbourhood plan policies – which too can help encourage local specificity in plan-making.

You can volunteer for neighbourhood planning activities in London on the Planning Aid England website.

Thank you to all of our speakers and attendees for this event. You can continue the discussion on Twitter at @RTPI_London and using the hashtag #NhoodPlanning.

The slides from the event can be made available by emailing london@rtpi.org.uk

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