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.

Yorkshire Post - Property - - PROPERTY -

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.

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