by Alex Nicoll
The government’s proposals on reforms of England’s planning system were damaging and would undermine local democracy, according to comments submitted in October by the Hampstead Neighbourhood Forum to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.
The government White Paper ‘Planning for the Future’ set out proposals to determine planning standards nationally by making the National Policy Planning Framework the “primary source of policies for development management.” Local Plans, such as Camden’s, would be stripped of most of their policy content. In our submission, the Forum commented: ‘We fail to see how development management policies could be set nationally with enough specificity to meet local needs and to guide particular designs and planning decisions.’
Local Plans, we argued, were built on decades of local experience and engagement with the public. Stripping them of their policy content, we said, ‘would be detrimental to local democracy.’
The White Paper envisaged a shift towards the use of ‘design codes’ - templates that set standards for development. The Forum argued that these could be appropriate for large new developments, such as new towns, but would not suit areas such as Hampstead, where there were no such sites. ‘We are concerned that without local planning policies in place there would no longer be a framework that would permit nuanced planning decisions concerning individual properties and specific setting,’ the Forum commented.
The government paper claimed to be in favour of Neighbourhood Plans, but had little to say about their role in the new nationally-organised system, other than playing a part in the writing of design codes. Neighbourhood Forums, which are all-volunteer bodies, would not have the specialist skills to write design templates and would require significant funding to engage the necessary professional expertise. Instead of this, we believe that Neighbourhood Plans, which result from extensive local consultation, should continue to complement strong, professionally-produced Local Plans.
The Forum’s submission concluded:
The White Paper sketches a shift towards a national system of planning, with local plans reduced by two-thirds in length and stripped of the detailed policies that they currently contain. The prime motivation for the government’s proposals appears to be to make it easier for larger developments to be built, on the assumption that this will be enable provision of new housing to be accelerated. It is important that England has enough new housing. But the planning system should not be built exclusively around this national target at the expense of community involvement and local considerations. Neighbourhood planning, because of its highly consultative nature, offers some indications of a better way forward. The enormous efforts of volunteers across the country to shape their own neighbourhoods should be built upon, rather than undermined. We hope that our comments are helpful in a necessary reshaping of the government’s proposals.