Localism Bill

Memorandum submitted by East Lindsey District Council (L 130)

1. This submission is on behalf of East Lindsey District Council in Lincolnshire. The administrative area of the District is over 700 miles. It is sparsely populated, with its 140,000 population being spread among some 200 settlement, only 41 having a population of greater that 500 and only four with a population of greater than 5,000. There are 181 Parishes in East Lindsey, approx 140 of which currently have formal representation through Town or Parish Councils or Parish Meetings. As such, there are a significant number of potential neighbourhoods in the District, which will bring its own challenges and opportunities with the enactment of the Localism Bill.

2. The focus of this submission is on those parts of the Localism Bill relating to changes to the planning system. East Lindsey District Council feels that the changes that have been introduced are unclear and there are many questions left unanswered by the Bill, questions which are fundamental to its operation and which should not be devolved to future guidance or advisory notes.

Role and Function of Neighbourhood Development Plans

3. The first concern is in relation to the role and function of Neighbourhood Development Plans. The Bill states (Schedule 9 – Part 2 Clause 7) that Neighbourhood Development Plans should set out policies "in relation to the development and use of land" and indeed, once adopted by the Council, the Plans will form a formal part of the Development Plan for the area. However, a Communities and Local Government representative recently suggested that Neighbourhood Development Plans would have a broader remit which could extend beyond land use planning matters, if the community wished. This publically stated view, although not currently expressed in the Localism Bill, has created some confusion as to the scope of the Neighbourhood Development Plans as currently, the Development Plan system cannot include proposals that do not have a land-use or spatial basis. Many objectives and proposals coming out of current Parish Plans are not land use in nature, and commit other public or private bodies to actions and investment which may not be currently set out in their work programmes. If the Neighbourhood Development Plans are intended to cover a broader sphere of activities, it is only appropriate to enshrine them in the Development Plan, if there is an appropriate accompanying delivery vehicle to deliver all of the community objectives.

4. The role and function of Neighbourhood Development Plans needs to be clarified.

Role of Town Councils

5. In terms of the preparation of Neighbourhood Development Plans ad Neighbourhood Development Orders, it is not clear if the powers devolved to Parish Council’s by the Bill cover all Local Council’s, and also apply to Town Councils. (Local Council being the term used by the National Association of Local Councils to cover all locally elected groups). Towns often cover a number of wards and it could be argued, depending on the size of the town, that they cover a number of neighbourhoods. There may be arguments that they could look to the Neighbourhood Forum process instead.

6. The Bill needs to clarify the position of Town Councils.

Neighbourhood Forums

7. The Bill contains little detail about the powers that will be granted to Neighbourhood Forums such as their ability to generate income to fund the plan preparation. Nor does it set out their responsibilities for example in terms probity and governance; protocols such as those a Local Planning Authority or Local Council are required to adhere to. Furthermore, the Bill only requires only three members resident in the neighbourhood area to form it and does not appear to require any measure of public support for the group wishing to establish itself, unlike a Parish or Town Council which is elected. Although the group must be established for the express purpose of furthering the social, economic and environmental well-being of individuals in the neighbourhood, there is no clarity on how this would be assessed. It is also noted that this requirement refers to furthering the well-being of individuals and not the neighbourhood as a whole which would be the current planning ethos for an area.

8. The Bill should set out more detailed criteria for the formation of Neighbourhood Forums to enable Local Authorities to assess their suitability on a consistent basis and to enable those wishing to set up a Neighbourhood Forum to have a clear understanding of the criteria they need to meet and the powers and responsibilities this brings.

More than one Parish Council Covering a Settlement

9. The Bill explains (in Schedule 9 – Part 1 – Clause 2) that where a neighbourhood area includes the whole or part of another parish council, the parish council is authorised to act in relation to that neighbourhood area, only if the other parish council have given their consent. The Bill does not appear to cover situations where that consent is not given. There are a few parishes in East Lindsey where a large village has expanded into a neighbouring parish or has joined up with clusters of dwellings in a neighbouring parish. The neighbouring parish then contains its own primary settlement and development belonging to another town or village. There is no indication how this situation should be resolved if there is a reluctance for the two Parish Council to work together. Nor does The Bill mention what mechanism would be used where neighbouring parish councils do wish to work together on such a plan. The assumption is that they would together form a Neighbourhood Forum (as representatives from both Parish Councils would to be involved), approved by the Local Planning Authority, but this is not clearly stated.

10. The Bill should provide a clear framework for addressing those communities that are governed by more than one Parish Council. The content of the present clause is not sufficient and does not address what happens when this is not met.

Relationship to Site Allocation Development Plan Documents (DPDs)

11. The Bill requires that Neighbourhood Development Plans will be initiated by a qualifying body, who will prepare the Plan, in concert with the public, with the support of the Local Planning Authority. However, the Bill makes no mention of what happens in those communities where there is no desire by a qualifying body to produce a Neighbourhood Development Plan.

12. Because The Bill does not make that position clear, there are a number of uncertainties on how plan making will operate in the future, which have to be based on assumptions.

13. If the Neighbourhood Development Plan process is initiated, this will remove the need for the Local Planning Authority to prepare its own plan for that area as part of Local Development Framework. However, in those communities who do not avail themselves of the opportunity to take the lead in the Plan making process, it is assumed that the plan-making role will continue to lie with the Local Planning Authority through site allocations Development Plan Document. It is hoped that the intention is not that these communities will be left without site specific land use/spatial plans, especially where change is likely, but this is not referred to in The Bill.

14. If it is the case that both the community and the Local Planning Authority will be preparing plans for different parts of the area, The Bill needs to be clear what the relationship will be between any site allocation Development Plan Document and the Neighbourhood Development Plans. This is fundamental to the effective operation of land use planning across the country.

15. Furthermore, if plans are being prepared by both the local community and the Local Planning Authority, they will both form part of the Development Plan for the Local Planning Authority’s administrative area, but they will be governed by different rules regarding plan preparation. The Neighbourhood Development Plans will be prepared to the provisions set out in the Localism Bill and subsequent guidance, whilst those prepared by the Local Planning Authority will be prepared as Development Plan Documents in accordance with the provisions of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004. They will also be prepared to a variety of different timetables. How these two will sit together to provide a comprehensive plan for the Local Planning Authority area is unclear.

16. If the Local Planning Authority is to prepare some, but not all, of the Plans allocating land in within its boundaries this could lead to practical difficulties. When a Local Planning Authority begins to draw up its site allocations Development Plan Document there will be a number of unknown factors. It will not know how many of its communities wish to prepare a Neighbourhood Development Plan, when a community will begin preparation, how long these will take to prepare or if the Plans will receive community endorsement. The Local Planning Authority will therefore not know how many communities or which communities it needs to prepare plans for. Communities may also change their minds. With new people being voted or co-opted onto Local Councils or people moving into an area, this may bring new impetus to prepare Neighbourhood Development Plans or even lose the momentum of a Plan under preparation. This could lead to aborted work as the LPA may already have committed resources to preparing a plan for that area and be some way down the process of plan preparation when the initiation process commences.

17. There is also no detail in The Bill as to how District wide or cross boundary planning matters are to be determined through the Neighbourhood Development Plans.

18. In relation to Plan making the Bill needs to:-

· Be clear about how plan making will be carried out in those communities which do not wish to prepare a Neighbourhood Development Plan but where change is likely to occur;

· Set the framework for how two systems will operate together, if the Local Planning authority is still to draw up settlement specific plans some parts of its area, (some of the challenges of this are set out in paragraphs 15 and 16);

· Set a mechanism for the consideration of cross boundary or district wide issues through Neighbourhood Development Plans.

Community Support

19. There is also concern about the low level of expressed support that is required to adopt a Neighbourhood Development Plan. It is accepted that the current system does not require expressed support and instead operates on the basis of implied support unless objection is received. However, the level of 50% of those turning out to vote could mean, in some small neighbourhoods with a low level of public appetite for involvement, that very few votes would be needed to carry through a proposal.

Resourcing

Financial Resources

20. The Bill is not clear as to how the costs of neighbourhood planning are to be calculated, who incurs the costs, how the charges are calculated, and how the payments are redistributed to those incurring the costs.

21. Clause 97 (Part 5 – Chapter 3) of The Bill relates to charges for meeting costs relating to neighbourhood planning, but the sub-clauses only refer to the imposition of charges incurred by the Local Planning Authority. The costs of referenda and other support provide by the Local Planning Authority will be expensive and the opportunity to reclaim costs is welcome, however, there are two concerns-:

i. The clause appears to imply that payments relating to neighbourhood planning (both the Orders and the Plans) will be secured from charges in connection with a Neighbourhood Development Order. However, if these Plans and Orders relate to an area of low development interest and low commercial viability, the opportunities to recoup the costs of both the Neighbourhood Development Order and the Neighbourhood Development Plan will be severely reduced.

ii. The preparation of a Neighbourhood Development Plan is likely to be an expensive process for a Local Council (Town or Parish), and certainly for a Neighbourhood Forum who cannot call on raising precepts or other income generation open to a Local Council. Plan preparation and consultation themselves can be expensive but the more formal and legal elements of the process, such as Sustainability Appraisal, SEA and Habitats Regulation Assessments (which may be needed to pass the tests of European legislation) are likely to add considerably to the burden of local groups. This is especially so as they will not be able to generate the economies of scale that Local Planning Authorities can create, primarily because Neighbourhood Development Plans will be prepared on different timescales and unlikely to covered by one appraisal.

22. The Bill needs provide more details on the impact of resourcing the proposals it contains and the equity of the ability to recoup financial expenditure.

Non-financial resources

23. Councils have a duty to support the preparation of Neighbourhood Development Plans. There will be a need for capacity building within many communities to enable the aspirations of The Bill to be met. There are legislative requirements that have to be met and the there may be need for advice, training and other support to guide Local Councils or Neighbourhood Forums through some of the less familiar parts of the process. Not all of this support will have to come from the Local Planning Authority, but the capacity of voluntary and other bodies (such as the Community Council) to be able to fill any gaps has not been assessed and it could leave may communities without the support they feel they need at the time they need it.

24. With this in mind, the Council is concerned that funding is being withdrawn from the Planning Aid Service. The organisation has the potential to be at the vanguard of the planning elements of the Localism Bill and the timing of its demise is of great concern.

25. There will be limitations to the number of plans that a Local Planning Authority can support at any one time. East Lindsey provides a good example of this. With 181 Parishes in the District, approx 140 of which currently have formal representation and only four staff in the Planning Policy Team (one on a temporary contract) it will not take many of our neighbourhoods to wish to prepare a Neighbourhood Plan before the amount of support we are able to offer each group is seriously curtailed. Different groups will need different levels of support depending on the number of members, their individual experiences and the complexity of the issues they are addressing. This division of labour is going to be even more challenging if we are also required to be preparing, at the same time, a site allocations Development Plan Documents for other communities who do not wish to prepare their own plan.

26. The resource issue does not only relate to the day to day support in preparing the Plans, but the necessary contribution of the Council in carrying out referendums on behalf of local communities for the both Neighbourhood Development Orders and Neighbourhood Development Plans. Referenda require significant organisation and are costly to carry out. The burden of cost for a Local Authority such as East Lindsey, with a large number of communities could be very significant, and the opportunities to recoup the money very limited due to the rural nature of the District and its low development pressure; see paragraph 21 (i) above.

27. The Bill cannot continue to be silent on the costs that will be incurred by Town and Parish Councils or Neighbourhood Forums and how it is expected that the heavy financial burden of plan making will be met. Nor should it suggest that there is unlimited support to help communities achieve their aspirations.

Conclusion

28. East Lindsey District Council supports opportunities for local communities to have a greater involvement and role in the Plan making process. However, there is concern that, given:-

· The potential financial burden to communities of preparing a Neighbourhood Development Plan, particularly when considering the costs of preparing SA, SEA etc;

· The personnel resources needed to carry out the work; and

· The likely complexity of the regulations to be followed (which will be published at a later date).

This system may be out of the reach of many communities, particularly those with a small population.

29. There has been no opportunity to assess if amendment to the current system could not have achieved an improved outcome for all communities, not just those with resources to take part.

30. As a positive contribution to the debate, the Council would suggest that a less resource hungry and equitable way forward would have been to maintain the current system of Local Authorities preparing settlement proposals, but with a greater emphasis on demonstrating a direct and positive bottom –up contribution of the wider public in drawing up those proposals.

31. If Parliament is to continue with the proposals in the Localism Bill, this submission contains a number of areas where action is needed for clarification and to improve outcomes. The Council would ask that before the Bill proceeds any further along the Parliamentary process, the authors of the Bill attend East Lindsey to discuss the Council’s concerns, this could assist the authors in gaining a better understanding of the problems which the Council has raised above.

32. As an aside, any public reference to the work of the Local Planning Authority now seems to use the term local plan and there is no mention of the Local Development Framework but there has been with no clear explanation of what that means, which could also lead to considerable confusion.

February 2011