Planning system upheaval brings new challenges
Is localism an opportunity for long-term planning or a NIMBY’S charter? Architect Ric Blenkharm tries to make sense of the Government’s agenda and see how it might work in practice.
IN a country with a growing population and with finite land and finite natural resources, it seems logical that long-term plans should take account of every facet of society, ranging from housing, energy, transport, health and education.
By creating such plans, then a structured approach can be taken to the development of our towns and villages. Effective public transport structures can be established and energy needs met through integrated green technologies. Yet such plans need clear thinking, to be free of annual budget restraints and the whims of political change. In this way cohesion can be brought to bear in the continuing development of society.
In an attempt to rationalise planning and community involvement, the Government introduced the Localism Bill, now an Act, and is hoping to establish a new National Planning Policy Framework.
It will shift power from central government back into the hands of individuals, communities and councils. Localism is the driving principle underpinning the Government’s changes to the policy framework for planning, housing, regeneration and economic growth. The proposals involve a radical devolution of responsibilities to the local level, giving new powers and opportunities to councils and communities to plan and design their places. The aim is to drive change and empower communities with new rights to have more say in the development process.
In areas with a parish or town council, that body will take the lead. In other areas, local people will need to decide which organisation should lead on co-ordinating the local debate (it must have at least 21 members and be open to new members).
In all cases application will need to be made to the local planning authority for approval to proceed. Proposed neighbourhood plans or orders have to be submitted to an independent examination by a qualified assessor (normally held only by written representations). The examination would lead to a report, which would be given to the parish council or forum promoting the plan or order and to the local planning authority. The report would not be binding except in the case of Community Right to Build Orders.
Following the independent examination (and any modifications), as long as the draft plan or order meets certain tests ( eg relating to national policy, EU law and the strategic elements of local plans) the local authority concerned will hold a local referendum on whether the draft plan or order should be brought into force.
Where the draft plan or order receives the support of more than 50 per cent of voters at the referendum, the local planning authority would be required to adopt it as part of their local planning framework.
A Neighbourhood Plan can establish general planning policies for the development and use of land in a defined neighbourhood area. The plan might specify, for example, where new homes and offices should be built, and how they should look. The plan will set a vision for the future, and can be detailed or general depending on what local people want.
Clearly the sentiment behind this approach is laudable, but it will require professional input at every step of the way, and will need to be delivered as part of an overall national approach to infrastructure and development.
My fear is that both present and forecast budgetary constraints are seeing a diminishing of public sector services, and there will be a distinct lack of resource to implement such plans. I also worry that local communities will see the concept as a NIMBY [Not In My Backyard] charter and fail to grasp the real needs facing our society.
This would be a great pity. In such challenging times, we have a tremendous opportunity to create local enterprise, which reinforces local communities. Potentially, this will require infrastructure and new buildings. If these are designed and constructed with the positive backing of local communities, then it should be of immense benefit to all. It should help to build the social and economic backbone of the country.
Architects are well placed to assist in the formulation of such plans and to work effectively with individuals and communities to provide long-term solutions to local needs.
In their seven years of training, architects learn not only to design buildings; but also to understand topography, climate, transport, infrastructure, town planning and the needs of society as a whole.
They are trained to understand how places can have a positive affect on our wellbeing. With such knowledge, they should play an active role in the development of neighbourhood plans, which will be of long term benefit to all in the community.
Perhaps it is time to use an architect in your own backyard?
A SPECIAL PROPERTY: Lund House is one of the finest homes of its kind in East Yorkshire and boasts uninterrupted views over the Wolds countryside to the coast.
CHANGES IN PIPELINE: Architect Ric Blenkharn hopes localism will prove beneficial to communities, but says they will need good advice.