Undermining Neighbourhood Plans

By Anne Henshaw
8th February 2022

CPRE and many Wiltshire towns and villages have a growing concern that the hard work done by volunteer residents of many villages and towns in order to create Neighbourhood Plans for their area is being undermined by a part of the planning system which has shown to be all too easy for developers to exploit and undo this work.

Neighbourhood Plans were introduced in 2014 under the Localism Act to give communities a direct power to develop a shared vision for their neighbourhood and shape the development and growth of their local area. They are able to choose where they want new homes, shops and offices to be built, have their say on what those new buildings should look like and what infrastructure should be provided, and grant planning permission for the new buildings they want to see go ahead . The aim was to give local people an opportunity to choose what kind of growth, how much and where it should go. Wiltshire has been hugely successful in getting public support for Neighbourhood Plans and the county has achieved one of the highest number of these local level, local voice tailored plans in the whole country. Malmesbury was one of the first community areas to complete a N P in the whole country. There are 45 completed plans in the county and 99 Neighbourhood Areas designated.

A great success for local democracy. Or so it was thought.

Not so. Wiltshire Council cannot get developers to start to build the houses they have permission to build as government rules allow them to take as long as they wish before putting in the second part of the process to get full permission. This part of the planning system can stretch on for years and in the meantime the Council cannot count the sites in their calculations for the amount of houses they have in the pipeline for the next 5 years. If they fall behind, as Wiltshire has done, they do not have a sufficient supply of new houses coming forward to meet what is known as the 5 Year Housing Land Supply. This means that developers can apply for planning permissions to be granted on land which is greenfield , not included in a Neighbourhood Plan or the Wiltshire Local Plan. This system means that the applications can override local wishes. So all the hard work of local volunteers over a period of anything between 3-5 years in the preparation of their special document can be overridden. An application by a developer on a greenfield outside the community boundary and not in their NP is being granted permission due to this “shortfall”. Despite the planning committees frequently refusing these speculative applications which are directly in conflict with the wishes of local people, the developers force the issue by going to Appeal and recently the Planning Inspector’s have been agreeing with the developer arguments and granting the permissions. So far over 700 houses have been granted on sites which the local communities did not wish to see developed.

So what about the local democratic voice? People are asking themselves, why bother to give so much time and effort if what we want can be overruled. Our vision for the longterm future and protection of our community can be cast aside by a government whose clear ambition is to build, build, build at any cost.

This is causing huge concern, particularly in the north and west of the county where Malmesbury, Lyneham, Calne, Semington, Neston, Purton and Worton have suffered.

The question being asked by local people. Why bother to give so much time and effort to put together something for the longterm and future benefit and protection of the community, when it can be overridden due to wording in a government document which is biased towards development at all cost.

During Oral Questions for the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities in the House of Commons Chamber, on 25th January, James Gray MP asked

“I am sure that the Minister would agree that by far the best people to decide how many homes we want and where they should be are local people. Would he therefore agree with me and the town of Malmesbury in my constituency, which raised the point that the neighbourhood plan, which this Conservative Government brought in, is currently being trumped by the so-called five-year housing land supply figures, which are handed down by central Government? Will he give me a hint as to whether greater importance will be given in the forthcoming housing White Paper to neighbourhood planning, thereby allowing local people to decide how many houses they want and where?”

A full transcript of Mr Gray’s speech can be found here:

Two people searching for something against a cloudy blue sky