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Lessons from the Frontrunners

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SKM COLIN BUCHANAN

Lessons from the Frontrunners


In October 2011 we surveyed all 126 Neighbourhood Planning Frontrunners on their work to date, how they are going about the process of preparing a Neighbourhood plan, the issues faced and any advice they would give others. We received responses from 45 of the frontrunners: a response rate of 36%. Responses were received from frontrunners all across the country, in rural and urban areas, parished and unparished. We would like to thank all who responded and are pleased to present a summary of the ndings.

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John Pounder Q1: Who is leading the Neighbourhood Plan?


The vast majority of the Neighbourhood Plans are being led by the communities themselves: only 5 of the 45 who responded were local authority led. Those leading the process tend to be Parish Councils in parished areas, though many are following a partnership approach, with steering groups established comprising the parish, community organisations and local authority. Where Neighbourhood Forums have been established, some have taken advantage of existing bodies and organisations to lead the plan, including for example residents associations. E: jpounder@globalskm.com T: 0207 053 1489

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Q2: How is the funding being spent?


Most authorities are spending the money on supporting in-house resources and or passing it directly to the community (the Parish or a Forum) to decide what to do with it. Others are spending the money on organising, running and facilitating community consultation events. Some are holding the money back for the purposes of document production, the examination and referendum. The funding is being spread thinly and completion of the plan may need to rely on the goodwill of the authority to support the whole process, as well as the free time being provided by community groups and organisations.

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Q3: How has the plan boundary been dened?


In rural areas it appears that the plan boundary has been relatively easy to dene, relating to parish or village boundaries in most instances. In urban areas however the picture is more complicated. A variety of means has been used to try and dene the boundary. Some have made use of existing plan boundaries, for example, those dened as conservation areas or in SPDs. Some are relying upon natural features and physical boundaries to demarcate the area. Others are basing the boundary on catchment areas around a facility or site that will form the main focus of the Plan. Others say that the boundary will be dened through the course of preparing the plan. There is clearly no denitive answer.

Q4: What will be in the Neighbourhood Plan?


Most respondents are unclear as to what will be in the plan, saying that it is too early to determine and that it will be informed by the consultation process and evidence gathering. Conversely, most know what the plan will not contain beyond the production of general planning policies and principles. What will be in the plan? Sites allocated for development Page 2 Mix and quantum of development General principles and policies A masterplan Design guidance Yes (%) 36 38 51 24 36 No (%) 64 62 49 76 64

44% of all respondents said the plan would not comprise any of the ve listed items. In these areas, it is unclear what form the nal plan will take. Although it may be too early to say, responses might suggest that the neighbourhood plans being prepared are not focussed on growth but rather on what the place should be. Where Neighbourhood Plans do not provide information on sites, development quantum and mix, the local plan will take precedence on those issues.

Q5: How long will it take to prepare a Neighbourhood Plan?


36% of all respondents suggested that the plan would take up to eighteen months to progress from commencement through to submission for examination purposes. For those that said the Neighbourhood Plan would include all ve items specied in question 4 (above), the gure rose to 65% of all respondents saying the plan would take up to eighteen months. But, for those who are unsure what form the plan will take, there is no clear view on how long the plan will take. Either way, with the examination and referendum added in, and the draft regulations requiring an upfront proposal to make a plan to be submitted for consultation and consideration, the whole process could take time.

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Q6: What challenges have been faced?


Perhaps unsurprisingly, many respondents identied time and resources as the major barrier, followed by knowledge of the planning system and the availability of skills. Only 16% of respondents suggested that resistance to growth was a challenge for them, and even fewer, only 4%, said that lack of public interest was an issue for them. It is clear from the Frontrunners that communities want to get involved, but they need help from the local authorities understanding what is currently a complex planning system and the implications of this for their plan. Many respondents suggested that the level of advice and support required should not be underestimated and needs to be properly resourced. What challenges have been faced? Lack of public interest Resistance to growth Knowledge of the planning system Avaliability of skills Time and resources Yes (%) 4 16 31 33 49 No (%) 96 84 69 67 51

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The ndings might suggest that local communities have signed up to the growth agenda, but this is not borne out by the question on the plan content: perhaps there is limited resistance to growth because the Neighbourhood Plans that are progressing so far are not seeking to establish development targets for the area but are instead focussing on other matters.

Q7: What advice would you give?


One recurring theme here is the need to establish governance structures for the plan at the outset, identifying who is responsible for what and when. And linked to this is the nature of the group leading the plan: respondents suggested that time may need to be taken to ensure that the group or forum is representative and that all views are made, and heard. But, this may take time. When a Neighbourhood Forum is formed, it needs to be ensured that the organisation is representative. In urban areas, where a range of land uses are apparent, it is important to engage with the business and faith community, alongside residents. This will ensure by in from the beginning. Advice would be to get clear, precise, documented and approved governance arrangements in place with strong and locally accountable leads BEFORE starting any work on a plan. Most respondents acknowledged that the local authority should not lead the process, but that they should help provide advice and assistance, particularly in terms of understanding the legislative framework. The local authority should ensure they identify enough time and allocate sufcient resources to help support the process. Identify and provide sufcient local authority resources (staff and nancial) to be able to support Neighbourhood groups. A project plan and timeframe should be established at the outset, with clear goals and targets to work towards.

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