For our forthcoming sustainable and resilient planning event in Herefordshire, a couple of us from LWM met today with a contact in the Town and Country Planning Association and have been hearing more about the Localism bill than is good for us.

I previously outlined some concerns about the planning aspects of this bill in a previous post. These concerns have since increased considerably. There is little strategy left in strategic planning. It is dangerously permissive, and simply hands planning powers to the already powerful – whether community members or big developers. New concerns for me now are:

1. I didn’t realise that communities have to pay (tens of thousands of pounds) to develop their neighbourhood plans. Clearly the less inherent knowledge, wealth and time a community has, the less it can get into – and out of – this process. Unless of course a developer generously offers to fund their neighbourhood plan, perhaps making some helpful suggestions along the way. How about a nice little Tesco just there?

2. Cross-boundary issues (transport, shared facilities etc) and particularly dealing with perceived ‘bad neighbour’ activities (waste facilities, traveller sites, prisons, social housing, wind farms) will be a complete dog’s breakfast – made worse when communities realise the wafer-thin limits of the powers they are supposed to have been given. By the time the government is forced to get strategic, objective, cross-border planning back into the system, a lot of damage will have been done.

3. I’m told – though I don’t have a source for this -that the first two neighbourhood plan proposals raised by self-selected community representatives in response to the proposed new powers are a) a ban on all renewables schemes and b) a bunch of landowners seeking unrestricted housing on their rural land. Hmmm…

4. Local development frameworks become even more important, but are being both simplified and hurried along. An excellent B44 article on Birmingham’s core strategy demonstrates how the core strategy is dominated by trickle-down thinking, seeing Birmingham’s role as primarily to be ‘world class’ and ‘iconic’ – prostituting ourselves for inward investment, as Neil McInroy from CLES puts it – not about providing quality of life via sustainable economies for local people. Local areas and local economies are mentioned, but not sufficiently prioritised.

Going back to the bill there’s more – much more – but so little time to write about it. I’m no lawyer, but I suspect it will be a legal minefield. No wonder the government took so long to release it.They must be hoping MPs don’t start picking at all the holes in it…

Speaking of which – just a quick campaign plea – if you have the time, please share some concerns about the localism bill with your MP in time for the bill’s second reading on 17th January. There’s a good briefing from Friends of the Earth here, and some stuff from the TCPA here. You could point your MP to either of those.

Interesting times

Karen Leach