Future-proofing Neighbourhood Planning: Updating Para 198 NPPG
Antonia Layard, Law, University of Bristol (see Antonia’s profile here)
The late German Sociologist, Ulrich Beck, coined the expression “organised irresponsibility” (“organisierte unverantwortlichkeit” in German). He argued that major technological risks – nuclear power, genetic modification and climate change, for instance – were highly regulated and yet no one was ultimately responsible to prevent them. Richard Dunning (on this blog) has made a similar argument about housebuilding. Suggesting that “in a chocolate box of policies, localism is the fudge”, he has argued that in order to understand how we can increase housing supply, “we need to debate who should be responsible for providing the solution to the UK’s housing supply crisis before we discuss tweaks to the system. Only by understanding who is responsible can a clear framework be created to facilitate significant housing supply.” This raises the question: can neighbourhoods be responsible for facilitating greater housing supply? To answer this we need to understand how the responsibility for house-building is shared between different scales of governance. We also need to understand how opportunity is shared between the private, public and third sectors, bringing in the broadest possible range of housing providers. As the presentation by DCLG at the first Seminar illustrated, some neighbourhoods – in Thame, Broughton Astley and Woodcote – have overcome initial opposition to housebuilding to ‘plan positively’ (to use the terms of the NPPF). This gives neighbourhoods power (to make planning policy or grant permission); responsibility (to meet need and support growth) and investment (up to 35% of CIL). If neighbourhood plans are adopted, paragraph 198 of the NPPG, states that where “a planning application conflicts with a neighbourhood plan that has been brought into force, planning permission should not normally be granted”. But what if a plan is in preparation? Can neighbourhoods see off unwelcome applications for planning permission? Can they take responsibility for their own household allocation? Not everybody thinks so. Some local authorities have not been confident in relying on emerging neighbourhood plan allocations. Developers have challenged even completed neighbourhood plans, both in appeals and in evidence. Community participants are discouraged, believing that neighbourhood plans are merely a “sop” or a “fig leaf”. On the other hand, there has been an important decision in Broughton Astley, where the Secretary of State countered a planning application by preferring housing allocations in the adopted neighbourhood plan, giving these “significant weight”. This approach was legally upheld in the Crane litigation. More significantly still, in Devizes and Rolleston on Dove, the Secretary of State has given similar weight to site allocation policies in emerging neighbourhood plans, drawing on paragraph 216 of the NPPF. But can neighbourhoods and local authorities be confident that emerging neighbourhood plans will always be given significant weight? To future proof the governance system, we need to amend paragraph 198 of the NPPF. Specifically, it needs an explicit reference to emerging plans so that even in the absence of a local authority local plan or sufficient five year housing supply the neighbourhood vision – if sufficiently positive – can prevail. This sends a vital signal to neighbourhoods – and others – that their hard work in the planning process, over years, will yield positive results and that they cannot be “pipped to the post”. There is growing consensus that neighbourhood planning can work, by involving local communities in decisions about housebuilding can increase supply by making marginal sites viable, supporting a broad range – and additional – modes of delivery and making suitable ‘rightsized’ accommodation available for key and often overlooked groups and individuals in neighbourhoods. Giving neighbourhoods the opportunity to genuinely plan for their own future, particularly with CIL moneys for neighbourhood facilities, is more of an incentive, than individualised financial compensation. Neighbourhood planning can increase housing supply. Of course resources need to be invested to ensure that all communities can engage in this way. Localism remains a voluntary system but all who want to engage should be supported in doing so. Undoubtedly then, the answer to the question “can neighbourhoods be responsible for facilitating greater housing supply?” is yes. We can have organised responsibility – where collaboration between scales – national, local and neighbourhood – is both enabled and protected. To future proof this responsibility, however, encouraging community participants to put in the significant amount of effort to take it on, we need to adjust paragraph 198 of the NPPG. This will give neighbourhood planners confidence that their emerging plans will have genuine weight.