Localism Bill

Memorandum submitted by a neighborhood group from a combined Hampshire village of Wildhern and hamlet of Charlton Down (Matt Dobson, Ian Dobson, Nicol McGregor, Sue McGregor, Ian Swayne, Rosie Swayne, Jan Maynard, Liz Wallis) (L 152)

Localism Bill: Contributions to General Committee’s Enquires

1. We are a neighborhood group from a combined Hampshire village of Wildhern and hamlet of Charlton Down and we strongly support the Localism Bill. Our members have been seriously and adversely affected by the increasingly top down, dictatorial approach to planning which fails to properly consult with communities before setting local policy. If implemented in the true spirit of the Big Society this Bill should release land to build, supported not condemned by the community in which it is located, at affordable prices. This will hopefully introduce young people to those often declining communities whilst still protecting what is special in the rural environment. More importantly, it will invigorate those communities and break the apathy that pervades people when their hopes and ideas are thwarted by apparently pedantic rules that fail to recognise their intelligence and knowledge.

2. We have read the Bill, listened to the General Committee’s videoed sessions and have discussed their implications. We now wish, in a small way, to contribute if permitted to the Committee’s efforts to ensure that the Act will work as intended and respectfully draw the Committees attention to five matters of clarity that could jeopardize its implementation and efficacy.

3. Existing Local Plans (LP) still implement top down directives and are currently seen to depend upon unelected planners to propose new locations, with which they may have no connection, for development to meet those directives. The Committee already knows the many reasons why the consultation process for the Local Plan elicits relatively few responses compared with the population that a Council serves. We agree with Eric Bernshaw and Gavin Palmer at the 27th January enquiry session (time 18:38:18) on this. The current assumption is that planners know what should happen. However, people on the ground do too but they feel powerless to make an effective contribution or change to Local Plans which are seen as a remote fait accompli. They feel controlled rather than served. These are the Local Plans which will continue, possibly for another ten years after the Bill is passed and to which it still requires adherence, at least until the new Neighbourhood Plans can be used and scaled to make the relevant and cohesive Local Plans envisaged by the Bill. This causes our first concern:

4. Issue 1- Local Authority right to refuse Neighbourhood Development Areas and Orders based upon existing Local Plan boundaries: Several of our members have experience writing complex European contracts and believe that the clauses below appear sufficiently ambiguous to make it possible for Local Authorities to refuse a Neighbourhood Area (NA) application and to grant a Neighbourhood Development Order (NDO) if they consider either contrary to the existing Local Plan effective when the Bill is enacted. The following example illustrates the problem:

5. Example. A registered Neighbourhood Area could consist, like us, of the people in a village, currently bounded to allow new build, and people in a nearby hamlet which is unbounded and currently designated as open countryside. Its Neighbourhood Area Plan, supported by over 50% of its inhabitants, proposes new dwelling(s) on land in the hamlet that in the village would normally be permitted under infill rules but under the existing Local Plan would not as it is classed as open countryside. It appears that the Bill will, as currently written, allow the Local Authority to still prevent such sensible and locally supported development as such a NDOs must still adhere to the Local Plan with its established boundaries. The EU Directive 85/337/EEC has influenced these but does not in itself prevent such development described above. If adherence to a legacy Local Plan persists the status quo will prevail and the enthusiasm for communities to become involved will cease.

6. Clauses that give rise to ambiguity of the type described above:-

61G Clause 11(g), 61H (2) with 61I(e) (f) refusal of Neighbourhood Area applications and ‘excluded development’

There is no definition in these sections of ‘prescribed’ Does it mean the same as defined in Section 37A i.e. ‘prescribed by regulations made by the Secretary of State’ otherwise these clauses appear to allow Local Authorities to use existing Local Plan boundaries and regulations to refuse such applications

61J (1)(b) who/what defines the limitations of a NDO, Neighbourhood Plan?

61J (3) who and what criteria determines whether a Parish Council can have the power to grant an NDO. Are either dependant on the vagaries of the local Authority or that determined by the collective neighbourhood areas?

Schedule 4B: Clause 5(5)(b) and Clause 8(2)(b) does ‘the area of the authority’ refer to the Local Planning Authority, the Parish Council or a similar qualifying body? If it is the Local Authority it appears that the NDO must conform to the Local Plan

rather than the Neighbourhood Area Plan

Schedule 4C (2)(2)(c ) and (2)(2)(a) What is meant by ‘prescribed limits’ and ‘limit by reference to (a) the area in which the development is to take place’? Both could refer to existing Local Plan boundaries and prevent a Community Right to Build Order (CRBO)

7. The Communities and Local Government’s own office appears to reinforce this ambiguity when it wrote to a group member on 16th December 2010 stating a NDO/CRBOs ‘will not replace the current planning process’.

8. Perhaps the Committee could consider an amendment to resolve these ambiguities eg adding a clause to Schedule 10 (4B) (5) to address this concern which might say that ‘A Local Authority may not refuse an NDO application on the basis of Local Plans ratified before the date of the Localism Act, excluding 61I (a) to (d), a qualifying European site and Annex 3 to the EIA Council Directive 85/337/EEC’

9. Issue 2 The right to vote in a NDO referendum: Schedule 11 (4C) 5 (1) (b) and 61F Clause 5(b). This right is different when a NDO is a Community Right to Build Order in that the latter allows (a) members of a Community Organisation who do not live in the area and (b) those who ‘wish to live in the area’ to vote whereas an NDO does not.

10. Could the Committee consider that the CRBO(a) and (b)conditions for voting be applied to NDOs as this may enable people who wish to live in a Neighbourhood Area the opportunity to register, subject to conditions, in that area and to influence its development which may enable them to do so. Otherwise, please qualify the reason behind the difference as a CRBO may delay one made by a Neighbourhood Area.

11. Issue 3 Listed Buildings: The Bill does not take the opportunity to address how listed building conditions will operate under the new planning mechanisms.  Planning conditions imposed upon listed building are seen by most people as unreasonable in that they do not allow the upgrading of humble properties in the way that has happened over the years, up until 1984 when it was hastily decided to list most properties over 100 years old.  This has left listed buildings in a time warp.  So, will NDOs apply equally to listed buildings?  Conservation experts may need to exercise strict regulations for Grade I and possibly top tier Grade II* buildings. However, most listed buildings are Grade II.  If they are to survive, as habitable dwellings in the 21st century, people must be allowed to adapt them to modern living requirements, otherwise they fall into disrepair and become abandoned.  In order to help the majority of cases would the Bill enable a Neighbourhood Plan to differentiate Grade II buildings, so that the conditions applying to them fell within the localism decision-making area, rather than being the domain and final say of conservation officers. Such officers’ vested interest can sometimes override reasonable solutions to sensible upgrades. If not, it appears that the Bill deems that local people are not capable of making the sensitive decisions about Grade II buildings, only the unlisted.

12. Issue 4 Implementation: Peter Redfern CEO of Taylor Wimpey said at the 25th January enquiry session that there needs to be a long change-over period before the new system is effective. We, as the potential driving force for change from the bottom, must strongly disagree. If people in communities do not see a real and rapid difference in the results produced by the power of their involvement they will loose faith in the system and withdraw. Quick wins will be necessary to convince people from their cynicism and current apathy. The entrenched forces of the existing planning regime will not willingly change their modus operandi unless the direction of travel is very clearly spelt out. However, this means the framework not necessarily the detailed implementation mechanisms. With skeleton procedures communities are capable of developing flexible, robust and dynamic systems that will enable them to develop their Neighbourhood Plans which will contribute to the Local Plan to meet demanding future needs. For instance, in our example above, if the new Act makes it clear that residents in a hamlet can determine a Neighbourhood Development Plan which includes a definition of its own building boundary allowing infill opportunities, currently impossible under its open countryside status, then the Local Authority could accept this NDP subject to 50+% vote. It could then be relatively simply invoked and monitored and may also reduce the planners workload.

13 Could the Committee consider that the Regulations determined by Local Authorities are nationally compatible to prevent gross anomalies between Local Auhtotities and provide only core skeleton procedures that can be applied as appropriate by the Authorizsd Bodies as best suits their Neighbourhood Areas

13. Issue 5 Communication: The Bill reasonably enables Local Authorities to develop regulations for the communication of various criteria and procedures. It has been our experience that the communication methods and mechanisms used by Local Authorities are not always pervasive or appropriately recorded. Their communication may benefit from suitable investigation into new channels and strategies that can be imitated or even improved upon by town and parish councils. This Bill will depend on a well planned communication strategy that works from both bottom up and top down.

14. Can the Committee consider introducing a requirement in the Bill to ensure that all Local Authorities and Authorised Bodies establish dynamic and appropriate communication strategies and mechanisms?

15 Thank you taking our contribution into consideration

February 2011