Neighbourhood plans take up edging towards maintaining status quo, research finds

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The take up of neighbourhood plans, a cornerstone of the UK government’s Localism agenda, is concentrated in the south of England, according to new research. They are generally in more affluent areas within Conservative led authorities, with a mixed picture of providing for or resisting development, says the research published by planning consultancy Turley. To date, over 980 applications have been made by neighbourhood organisations for formal approval to draw up a neighbourhood plan. Of these, over 750 areas have been approved by local authorities to proceed. The research also shows that 75 neighbourhood plans have been published for consultation, but only six Neighbourhood Plans were formally in place at the end of February 2014. Of those plans published, 73% have been produced in areas with Conservative led councils, with just 9% having been produced in areas which are Labour controlled and 75% of all published plans have been produced in the south of England. The Turley research also highlights that areas of below average affluence have so far been less involved in the neighbourhood planning processes, with just nine plans published in areas categorised as ‘most deprived’. ‘We have reviewed over 4,000 pages of draft neighbourhood plans and a clear picture is emerging. The preparation of neighbourhood plans is popular but is being recognised more by communities in the south of England compared to the North. It also appears that less affluent communities are not yet engaging fully in the neighbourhood planning process,’ said Rob Peters, executive director in Turley’s Bristol office who led the research. The research found that, of the plans published so far, the smallest population of a neighbourhood plan area is Walton in Wakefield in West Yorkshire, representing just 225 people. The largest is Winsford in Cheshire representing over 30,000 people, highlighting the difference in size, scale and geography of the plans. Some 67% of all published plans cover rural neighbourhoods and one third relate to urban areas while 55% of all neighbourhood plans seek primarily to resist new development, with that number increasing to 63% in rural areas. ‘I am not yet convinced that neighbourhood planning is an emphatic success or that the plans are making satisfactory provision for development, as the government has suggested, when so few plans have been made (i.e. adopted),’ said Peters. He pointed out that neighbourhood plans have been stalling in their progress to adoption with adjourned examinations in Winslow, Aylesbury Vale, rejections by Examiners in Slaugham, and legal challenges in Tattenhall, Cheshire. ‘The picture that emerges from the published neighbourhood plans is one of the majority seeking to maintain the status quo and restricting new development, with a smaller minority of plans encouraging growth. This suggests a potential for conflict between localism delivered through neighbourhood planning and the positive presumptions and growth that underpin Government policy,’ he added. The Turley research recognises that neighbourhood forums can provide a useful route to achieve meaningful engagement, but in some cases the views of land owners and… Taylor Scott International

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