Localism Bill

Memorandum submitted by Bristol Neighbourhood Planning Network (L 93)


Administrators of the Bristol Neighbourhood Planning Network give evidence of the initial reaction of residents planning groups to the Bill and the amendments that they would suggest to increase the effectiveness of the Bill in achieving its aim to put local communities at the centre of a new collaborative approach to planning issues.

Bristol Neighbourhood Planning Network

1. This evidence is submitted on behalf of the Bristol Neighbourhood Planning Network (NPN)

2. NPN was formed in 2007 by three neighbourhood residents’ groups and has since expanded to a membership of over 40 Residents’ Planning Groups across most of the neighbourhoods of the city. Neighbourhood boundaries are defined by residents themselves.

3. The aim of the Bristol NPN is "capacity building" that is to increase both the number and the ability of residents to be more effectively involved in the planning system. This is done by sharing information, skills, expertise and experience between members and by negotiating with and helping the Local Planning Authority (LPA) to improve its community involvement procedures.

4. Methods used to build residents’ effectiveness include publishing plain English "how to" guides and templates for creating plans at site and neighbourhood levels and for pre-application involvement; creating a unique set of ten "ground rules" for involvement, now built into the Bristol SCI 2008; arranging mentoring for Residents’ Groups; arranging seminars for residents, Local Authority Councillors and developers and their agents; and negotiating with the Local Planning Authority in the production of procedures and protocols for involvement in both plan-making and pre-application development management.

5. All of this activity both at the NPN level through administrators and at the level of Residents Groups is conducted on an entirely voluntary basis, including pro bono work from professional advisers, supplemented by financial support from a local Community Foundation to procure specific professional tasks.


6. The experience of the Bristol NPN, in common with many resident groups across the country, is that residents wanting to be more effectively involved in the planning system face a series of barriers. These include the obscure plan-making methods, language, and tortuous timescales of the Local Development Framework; the tendency of many professional officers and Councillors to "know what is best"; and the lack of resources of confidence, knowledge, skills, and time within the community.

7. There is a groundswell of cautious welcome from community groups for the planning provisions of the Localism Bill and the proposal to "redefine" planning by putting neighbourhood residents at the centre of the planning task of reconciling competing economic, social and environmental priorities. The provisions of the Bill go some considerable way to address the present barriers to involvement by giving neighbourhood residents, rather than the LPA or developers, the right to initiate the creation of plans and development orders that will have statutory force.

8. The caution comes from harsh experience of the difficulties of community involvement within the present culture of planning and the fact that many details of the provisions of the Bill and subsequent regulations are as yet unknown.

9. There is also the potential capacity within most neighbourhoods, through support arrangements such as the Neighbourhood Planning Network, for resident groups to be able to take on the Neighbourhood Development Plan task.

10. If the intention of the Neighbourhood Planning provisions of the Bill are to enable residents in neighbourhoods to have genuine informed choice in decisions on the development of their own neighbourhood, and at the same time avoid those provisions being high-jacked or frustrated by the present roles of professional planners, Councillors and developers then, in our experience, it will be necessary to make amendments.

Proposed Amendments

11. To enable the building of neighbourhood residents’ confidence and ability to be involved without the process being high-jacked by single or minority interests, the provisions should:

11.1. Require members of the Neighbourhood Forum to be residents in the Neighbourhood Area covered by the Forum.

11.2. Set the minimum number of residents able to form a Neighbourhood Forum at 9.

11.3. Require that the Neighbourhood Development Plan is taken to consultation with the wider community and open to variations being proposed before finalising the plan for examination.

12. To promote a change of mind-set in the role of professional planners and Councillors and avoid the proposals of Neighbourhood Development Plans being frustrated, the provisions should:

12.1. Set a limit of detail to the definition of "strategic" in the examination for compliance. Specific land allocations on individual sites in a Site Allocations DPD and/or specific policies in a Development Management DPD would frustrate the purpose of the Neighbourhood Development Plan and waste the community effort in producing it.

12.2. Provide for the replacement of any existing land allocations in a statutory DPD and policies and/or land allocations in a non-statutory SPD by the new Neighbourhood Development Plan, once it is adopted. The Neighbourhood Development Plan and all the community work in it would otherwise have no point.

13. To encourage an increase in the quality and realism of the dialogue between residents and developers, the provisions should:

13.1. Require residents who are themselves developers or landowners or retained agents of developers or landowners to declare an interest.

13.2. Require developers to conduct pre application consultation for proposals that involve more than 50 dwellings or 5,000 square metres, or for proposals that involve a significant impact due to the sensitivity of the site. These limits would replace the limits of more than 200 dwellings or 10,000 square metres that are currently mooted.

13.3. Allow LPA’s, as at present, to set their own requirements, below these limits, for community involvement in the planning application validation list.

February 2011