The policy intention of neighbourhood planning in England was to overcome community opposition to house-building. It was anticipated that neighbourhood plans would increase the number of sites allocated for housing by giving communities more influence over the shape of development in exchange for their compliance with a pro-growth agenda. By the end of 2015, with over 100 neighbourhood plans in place and a further 1700 underway, the government announced the success of the policy in increasing housing allocations by more than 10 per cent.
Neighbourhood planning was an experimental policy at the seismic rift between devolution and the national imperative to boost the supply of housing. Making this policy work meant giving local people real influence over local development at the same time as making it easier for the volume house builders to access land and gain planning approval.
From the outset there was tension between the radical rhetoric of citizen empowerment and a prescriptive regime that enforced compliance with deregulated volume house-building. For neighbourhood planning to achieve its behavioural ends there had to be a conclusive demonstration that statutory powers had been devolved to local people.
In November 2015, the Housing and Planning Minister announced that the neighbourhood planning initiative in community empowerment had increased house building by more than 10 per cent. Analysis of selected neighbourhood plans showed they had allocated sites for more housing than required in the strategic Local Plan. The findings were presented as confirming the success of neighbourhood planning in encouraging communities to support house building. The minister Brandon Lewis said:
“We are scrapping the broken old planning system that pitted neighbours and developers against each other, and cornered people into opposing any development in their back yard. Our approach of getting the whole community working together is paying off, and breaking through local opposition”
The increase in housing allocations was largely due to the housing policies in three neighbourhood plans: Broughton Astley, Winsford and Winslow. The increased allocations in other neighbourhoods were small, but Broughton Astley neighbourhood plan agreed to accept 100 more homes than required in the Harborough local development framework, Winslow allocated sites for 285 more homes than Aylesbury Vale’s target, and Winsford planned for 148 more than in the Cheshire West and Chester Local Plan.
Despite their apparent support for housing development, all three neighbourhood plans had been subject to concerted legal action by the volume house-builders. Together with many other neighbourhood planning areas since the end of 2013, Broughton Astley, Winsford and Winslow neighbourhoods had been subject to planning appeals and judicial reviews from volume house-builders objecting to housing policies and site allocation decisions. Far from ending a system that pitted neighbours against developers, the policy of neighbourhood planning had, if anything, exasperated the antagonism.
Next installment – Neighbourhood Planning and Localism: power to the People? Bristol. Policy Press forthcoming