Getting residents involved with community-led planning and local consultation leading to evidence based action plans or an agenda for local activity, has been a long standing way of working in many rural communities. When government introduced the Localism Act in 2011 a new form of community-led plan was introduced called Neighbourhood Plans. These documents afforded an even greater opportunity to influence the future of the built environment in rural areas, with groups able to create documents which would carry a legal weight as part of the planning process.
It is important to state that Neighbourhood Plans are not a way of blocking development locally but to offer the opportunity to influence the size, type and even placement of local planning applications. This page on the ACRE website sets out more detail about how the plans work, the stages involved to develop them and links to some case studies to help you learn about how other communities have approached them.
The reason to look at Neighbourhood Plans in this blog is because this week is Rural Housing Week and it’s important to consider how communities can engage with and take on some of the responsibility of delivering housing, which is needed locally. ACRE has always supported appropriate development in rural areas, but believes that activity must be supported by evidence of need and where possible involve residents before any decision is made. The fact is a lack of affordable housing in rural communities is a real issue with higher house prices, lack of local services and access to transport being factors which could threaten the sustainability of some areas.
Neighbourhood Plans are an opportunity for communities to really look for themselves at what they need locally; what would help the place they live not only survive but also thrive? What’s the current local demographic and does the housing meet their needs? Are there services and facilities which need to be sustained or even reintroduced? What environmental considerations should be taken into account before development could be progressed? These are all questions which a Neighbourhood Plan could answer, putting local knowledge at the heart of local policies and priorities which a planning authority should consider when looking at future applications for the community.
ACRE appreciates that these documents rely heavily on having a team of volunteers at the heart of activity. The recent NCVO-led Volunteers’ Week was an opportunity to consider how these individuals who give up their time for the benefit of others should be supported and rewarded for their efforts. With regards to Neighbourhood Plans if local residents aren’t able to get involved with the development of the plan, the best way they can show their appreciation for the efforts of othersis to make sure they engage with the consultations and stay aware of the planned development. Finally the most important activity for all residents is to ultimately turn up to vote at the referendum which signs the plan off, making it a Statutory Planning Document for your community.
For more information: Locality currently provide funding for community groups looking to develop a Neighbourhood Plan, they also have a website full of resources which could be useful for groups and can be found here. Any group thinking about undertaking a Neighbourhood Plan should also make contact with their local ACRE Network member to discuss what support is specifically available in the area, either delivered by the ACRE Network member themselves or by another partner. Your local ACRE Network member will also be able to highlight examples of plans already in existence in your area and learning from others is great starting point for any new Neighbourhood Plan.