Neighbourhood Plans

John Howell, MP for Henley and author of Open Source Planning (the forerunner of the Localism Bill) pointed out this week that when a locally lead system was first proposed in Open Source it gained many supporters. Thame and Woodcote are two neighbourhoods that are now pioneering the Neighbourhood Plan in Oxfordshire.

Woodcote is yet to really get out of the blocks, but Thame Town Council has already published the report of its first community planning events (open sessions, workshops, online consultation, Facebook etc).

However, the Neighbourhood Plan must generally conform with the housing numbers that are imposed by South Oxfordshire District Council. In other words, this is not quite the bottom up approach that gained so much support in Open Source Planning (see page 8 of Open Source regarding local decision-making).

There has been considerable support and engagement with the Neighbourhood Plan process in Thame, and there are strong efforts being made to seek the views of all residents and business owners. Although the consultants have been at pains to explain that the Neighbourhood Plan cannot allocate housing numbers to Thame many of the responses still relate to the amount of growth that might be appropriate in this market town.

In order for the Neighbourhood Plan to be ‘adopted’ (for use in planning decisions) it currently needs to be supported by 50% of those that vote in a referendum regarding the Plan. This is a high hurdle given that those who turn out to comment on planning applications are represented very heavily by objectors. Many who have engaged in the process already understand that the Plan cannot dictate the overall levels of growth in Thame. Consensus for growth is very difficult to form when the benefits of development are seldom understood or accepted by existing residents, and the objections (increased traffic, burdens on infrastructure etc) are well rehearsed. This makes the pioneering Plans an interesting and exciting prospect.

It remains to be seen, then,  whether at referendum time, the ‘no vote’ turns out in force to reject the Plan; or whether true consensus can be built at a local level. Watch this space.

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