Have your say: Does the Localism Act give people more power in the planning process?

People power montage People power montage

Thursday, August 30, 2012
11:58 AM

The Localism Act promised to give people more power over development in their communities. But will people embrace the measures - or are they already too disillusioned with the planning process? BEN WOODS investigates.

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Planning expert’s view

Q&A interview about people power, planning law and the Localism Act with Christopher Balch, Professor of Planning at the University of Plymouth.

• Does planning law gives the public enough power?

The planning system when brought in 1947 introduced control over the development and use of private land ‘in the public interest’. The power to take planning decisions rests with the local planning authority who are a democratically elected body. However in taking their decisions they can only take into account planning considerations. These have been defined and tested through a series of legal cases over the past 70 years. If a lot of people object to a planning application decision makers can only take into account their legitimate planning concerns.

Just because a lot of people are opposed to a controversial scheme it doesn’t mean that you have to take their views into account – which of course is why many people feel frustrated that they are not being listened to.

• Do you feel that the planning process favours applicants over local people?

The new National Planning Policy Framework carries with it a presumption in favour of sustainable development. This has probably tilted the balance in favour of development. However at the same time Localism is intended to devolve more power and responsibility to communities. The planning system in the UK always has been a discretionary system which is subject to political decision making. If you spoke to a developer they would probably say that local people have too much influence.

• Do you feel wealthy planning applicants are sometimes guilty of threatening a costly appeal to get applications through?

There is asymmetry in resources between applicants and local authorities which is undoubtedly having an influence in decision making. The cost of planning appeals runs into £10,000s which local councils don’t have at the moment. They therefore run scared of going out on a limb and rejecting an application fearful that they could also have costs awarded against them. However in my experience local judgements about controversial planning applications are often right. What we have seen is the planning system leading to the creation of oligopolies of retailers (the big four supermarket chains) housebuilders (where a handful of major builders produce around half of all new homes) and increasingly chains like Costa. This is a fundamental failure of the planning system. It should promote consumer choice. However it is only those with deep pockets who can play the game meaning that as consumers we have less and less choice.

The Localism Act will put power in the hands of the people and provide them with greater control over the future development of their towns and villages.

That was the vision promised by the government when the bill was given Royal Assent in November as efforts were made to make the planning process more democratic.

But have these measures done enough to inspire people across the region to engage with their communities – and will it give them the power they desire?

It is hoped local people and parish councils will embrace neighbourhood development plans – introduced as part of the Localism Act – which is a legally binding document that allows communities to establish a general planning policy for the development of land.

But while the idea has been welcomed by some campaigners and an environmental pressure group, there are still concerns that the cost and timescale of creating a plan would continue to alienate people from the planning process.

According to one professor of planning, people feel they have no control over their community because they are often told by planning officers that public opposition – regardless of its size – is not a legitimate planning reason to stop a proposal going ahead.

Norfolk County Council leaders have been accused of riding roughshod over more than 65,000 people in March last year by agreeing to award the contract for a controversial incinerator at King’s Lynn.

Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) believes a limited third party right of appeal would instil faith back into communities amid claims that it would provide greater powers for local people to appeal decisions, and help curb the “bullying tactics” of wealthy developers.

At present, areas of Norfolk and Waveney have become hardened battle grounds for local campaign groups trying to stop development in their communities.

Campaigners in Shipdham near Dereham have been locked in a 10-year battle over the construction of two 100-metre high wind turbines, with the saga taking a new twist at the beginning of the month when Breckland council refused planning permission.

In Little Dunham near Swaffham, people have vociferously opposed Warwick Energy’s efforts to place a substation in the village. Ministers have now ordered a second public inquiry into plans after the High Court quashed their decision to block it.

However, the latest battle to reach a dramatic climax was seen in Southwold where Waveney District Council’s planning team were met with anger when they approved a re-submitted planning application that allowed a Costa Coffee café to open in the town.

People in Southwold mounted a strong fight against the national chain claiming the introduction of the cafe would provide too much provision for hot drinks and threaten the future of independent businesses.

But despite raising more than 600 objections, campaigners were told by planning officers that there was no planning reason to stop Costa Coffee opening at 70 High Street - even though councillors had turned down the same application weeks earlier.

One national newspaper questioned whether Southwold’s opposition to the national chain was an example of a “snobbishness” that resisted change.

But John Perkins, secretary of the Southwold and Reydon Society, said people should not be reluctant to protect their communities in fear of being called a ‘nimby’.

The campaigner, who fought to protect Southwold’s character from national chains (including Costa Coffee), said a neighbourhood development plan could have given them the power they needed to stop Costa Coffee’s application.

“We would have stood a much better chance of fighting Costa if we had a neighbourhood development plan,” he said. “But the only draw back is that it will take long negotiations, and a lot of time, effort and money to get one because you would have to consult with a lawyer and planning experts.

“There is also, of course, national legislation that would override that.”

He added; “The situation with the economy at the moment means that we are saying yes to developers, on occasions when we should be saying no. I believe you have got more pressure on local communities at the moment then you have ever had.”

Meanwhile, Simon Cairns, the director of the Suffolk Preservation Society, has welcomed the idea of bringing new powers to local communities, but said this can only happen if communities come together to engage in the planning process.

“Perhaps the fundamental reason why communities feel disengaged is because they feel that planning decisions can be made that do not reflect their aspirations,” he said.

“The Localism agenda raised hopes that decisions would be made to reflect community aspirations. However, planners have a statutory duty to determine applications in accordance with the development plan unless material considerations indicate otherwise.

“In theory, the consultation process leading to adoption of local plans should mean that their policies are supported by the wider community. But how many individuals actually engage with the planning policy process?

“Very few see this as being of any relevance to their busy lives. It is only when an application materialises that local people decide to get involved but this can be too late.

“The neighbourhood plan process can enable local people to shape the future of their locality because these plans carry legal weight in the determination of planning applications.

“But there is both a community capacity issue and a funding gap that need to be resolved to help communities develop these plans.

“There is also a need to find a solution to engaging with a representative section of the local community. If these obstacles can be resolved then neighbourhood plans can help to empower communities and give them real power in the planning process.”

However, the CPRE has called for greater powers to be given to local people during the appeal process by introducing a limited third party right to appeal.

The CPRE has called for appeal powers in the planning system to be “rebalanced” amid claims that wealthy applicants use “bullying tactics” by threatening councils with costly appeals.

Neil Sinden, director of policy and campaigns at CPRE, said: “Rather then giving communities the same powers as developers in the appeals process as promised, the government is only giving them the option to approve development, not question it.

“This omission means that powerful supermarkets and other developers will be able to continue to bully and bludgeon local communities until they get the planning permissions they want.”

Mr Cairns believes that people in Southwold would benefit from the third party appeal process, as it would prevent communities feeling powerless after a council rules against them.

“In situations, such as the recent furore in Southwold, the community feels powerless to act after the council has resolved to grant consent against their views.

“It is this situation that the existing system cannot resolve. The case for a limited third party right of appeal is compelling.

“In such cases, where a significant consensus exists in the community then an appeal could be made to a higher authority. “A third party right of appeal, if carefully drafted, could prevent the alienation created when communities feel that their views have been overridden.”

19 comments

  • Frankly, for what it is worth, I should have preferred to see the EDP concentrate not on the concept of “localism” as promoted by central government, but on the failure of local government to act honestly, openly and transparently. Needless to say, I have in mind the examples of Norfolk County Council and the Greater Norwich Development Partnership. Until the public has an adequate means of requiring these bodies to act responsibly, in accordance with the rules and solely in the public interest the system fails us all and there is no real democracy. Whether “localism” is in play really does not matter. Why recently in Norfolk has there been a huge surge of interest in the move to prompt independent candidates with loyalty to no political party to stand in the County Council elections next May? Will the EDP now turn the spotlight on those two bodies, and ask for our views on that topic instead?

    Report this comment

    John Martin

    Thursday, August 30, 2012

  • It would be interesting if the EDP and its new editorin chief took this subject seriously in the way they have done with camapigns like the "Save Marham" camapign. The democratic deficit here in Norfolk gets bigger and bigger and the national ideals and policy behind Localism is not being enacted in the county, Just look at the number of community campaign groups, public inquiries, judicial reviews and public meetings that are taking place in Norfolk. If you talk to the legal profession they will tell you that Norfolk has more planning court activity then any other county and even they are beginning to question why although they see it as a lucrative "cash cow". And lets not be fooled by the Neighbourhood Plans which have to fit in with higher order plans e.g. The JCS and NPPF - so you have limited freedom to say what you want. If the JCS has allocated your parish 200 houses then your plan cannot ask for 20 houses only. Before a Neighbourhood Plan is adopted it is checked for compliance. It's not the localism charter that it's made out to be.

    Report this comment

    SNUB

    Thursday, August 30, 2012

  • 65,516,000 people voted against the incinerator, and 5000,for the incinerator. The results in a General Election was Conservatives Party 65000. Labour Party 5000, Liberal Dems 3000 so the Lib Dems win, therefore those with the least votes dictate to those with the majority of votes.Is this how Localism work

    Report this comment

    LFB

    Thursday, August 30, 2012

  • Localism is not recognised in Norfolk. Murphy and Jordan in theeir Ivory Towers have put pay to that. It's fine if you agree with them, but step out of line and they will gang up and crush any opposition to their plans. Perhaps "localism" is there to give County Councillors an excuse for higher expenses, preferential trips abroad, etc and to immune them from any fall out.

    Report this comment

    Commander500

    Friday, August 31, 2012

  • There will never be "localism" as long as there are self serving councillors and long serving planning department heads dictating and going against the peoples wishes. Just look at the Houses_flats in Gorleston. Plenty of people against, but the council vote was carried by a councillor who doesnt even live in Gorleston but is known as a dictator.

    Report this comment

    "V"

    Thursday, August 30, 2012

  • Localism and parish plans are great in theory, but what about the many Parish Councils dominated by those who want to preserve their own private rural idyll and are not prepared to consider further low cost or social housing in villages? In urban areas the neighbourhoods in greatest need of development plans will often have fewest residents who are willing, able and confident enough to formulate and implement them.

    Report this comment

    point du jour

    Thursday, August 30, 2012

  • Don't forget that the #NPPF guidelines state a presumption in favour of development. Does this mean that the localism bill is purely a right to say to a development but never no, there is certainly a feeling that this is the case. As if to reinforce this, yesterday, the planning minister Greg Clark announced a £10m fund to support community involvement.. Authorities can apply for grants of up to £30,000 per neighbourhood scheme to facilitate local involvement in the development of homes, businesses and local facilities. The money will be allocated towards helping and advising groups taking forward neighbourhood plans, and will contribute towards the examination of local designs. To be entitled to receive the funding, councils will be required to successfully designate an area for development and complete neighbourhood planning independent examinations. Greg Clark said: ‘This fund will give councils and community groups working on plans a big boost in getting their vision in place as soon as possible to ensure people can enjoy the benefits sooner rather than later.’ ‘Neighbourhood planning is making sure local residents are, for the first time, centre stage in helping decide their neighbourhood’s future. It is giving people the chance to plan positively and will help deliver the homes and jobs their communities need to thrive,’ Clark added.

    Report this comment

    ryburgh

    Thursday, August 30, 2012

  • Don't know what happened to my yesterday's post but the report seems to have changed so I will resubmit! The Localism Act is not worth the paper it is written on! Ask anyone in Norfolk. “Bullying tactics” by wealthy developers will always appeal to Councils for financial gain. It shouldn't be that way but it is and the taxpayer's money foots the bill. Most councillors don't care one hoot for localism - they think it's a big joke. (there are exceptions of course) They have cultivated a 'me, me, me' society where Councillors freely spend our money on 'jolleys, hotels, trips and ferrety hats'. Something really needs to change and soon.

    Report this comment

    Sandy.L

    Thursday, August 30, 2012

  • On the one hand, the Government appears to be making it easier for developers to build what they want, where they want, and on the other, giving local people more say in what can and can't be built in their neighbourhoods. How can that work? It is bound to lead to more appeals and legal challenges which are expensive and place a burden on ALL taxpayers in a council area. Result? Higher council tax or cuts in services.

    Report this comment

    beachstar

    Thursday, August 30, 2012

  • Localism as far as Norfolk County Council is goes like this The SILVER rooms in Norwichmay be a successful Day Centre as far as the users are concerned but you can have it for 80000 pounds and we dont care what you do with it Its surplus to requirements Oh you want to have a community centre Well doneNothing to do with us Suckers

    Report this comment

    No to tory boy

    Thursday, August 30, 2012

  • Is this instead of a cartoon page so we can all have a laugh? With our councils localism is about as possible as turning Norfolk into a tropical island. Lovely idea but aint going to happen.

    Report this comment

    alecto

    Thursday, August 30, 2012

  • Why is it when Local Communities are given the opportunity to have some say and control over the way in which planning applications are dealt with - there are always people who look on the negative side. If Neighbourhood Planning was in place when Southwold had their fight over Costa, they may have prevented the planning application. The comment by Alecko is typical of those people who have a negative view to change but are the first to complain when something happens in their Community that they dont like. If communities want to have more say in how they control their future then instead of critising they should channel their energies in making legislation like this work.

    Report this comment

    melville

    Thursday, August 30, 2012

  • Localism is the right to say 'Yes' to a development - but never 'NO'. In similar vein, a neighbourhood plan will allow locals to influence the design of a development, the look of a shop-front - but not whether the development goes ahead or not. Just look at the case of Great Ryburgh. Over 1000 local people and wildlife groups objected to the pointless relocation of a lorry park and fuel storage facility on environmentally sensitive land in the Wensum Valley. It was described as an environmental disaster waiting to happen. North Norfolk District Council approved it. Now the local community have been forced to take the council to Judicial Review - a process that will cost north norfolk's tax payers tens of thousands of pounds. A third party right of appeal would have saved the council tax payers thousands - and put paid to a development that even the council declared they couldn't guarentee wouldn't pollute the Wensum Valley.

    Report this comment

    matt champion

    Thursday, August 30, 2012

  • How can localism work when you have dictators in control of local councils?

    Report this comment

    John L Norton

    Thursday, August 30, 2012

  • The plain fact is that the new planning guidelines state that there ia a presumption in favour of development. The term 'localism' is a con-trick in an attempt to hide the reality. So called consultations are just a process that do not affect outcomes and democracy is ignored. Just look at the incinerator, NDR and GNDP to see how effective 'localism' is.

    Report this comment

    andy

    Thursday, August 30, 2012

  • In our local experience Localism and local democracy are hollow concepts. Big Business and Big Government, powerful and with deep pockets hold the trump cards. Here at Weston Longville Bernard Matthews, the turkey giant, ignored local oppostion based on planning policies and took the District Council's rejection of their application for two giant 125m wind turbines just some 600m from peoples homes to appeal. In doing so they rode roughshod over the parish plan and the oppositon of not only the parish council but also the local district and county councillors, the local MPs and the democratic decision of Broadland District Council's Planning Committee. At the appeal a Central Government Planning Inspector, with no connection to the area, said he took account of the Localism Bill, local opposition and the local planning policies but allowed the appeal anyway...so where was localism and local democracy in all this? .

    Report this comment

    Edmund Allenby

    Thursday, August 30, 2012

  • Don't forget that the #NPPF guidelines state a presumption in favour of development. Does this mean that the localism bill is purely a right to say to a development but never no, there is certainly a feeling that this is the case. As if to reinforce this, yesterday, the planning minister Greg Clark announced a £10m fund to support community involvement.. Authorities can apply for grants of up to £30,000 per neighbourhood scheme to facilitate local involvement in the development of homes, businesses and local facilities. The money will be allocated towards helping and advising groups taking forward neighbourhood plans, and will contribute towards the examination of local designs. To be entitled to receive the funding, councils will be required to successfully designate an area for development and complete neighbourhood planning independent examinations. Greg Clark said: ‘This fund will give councils and community groups working on plans a big boost in getting their vision in place as soon as possible to ensure people can enjoy the benefits sooner rather than later.’ ‘Neighbourhood planning is making sure local residents are, for the first time, centre stage in helping decide their neighbourhood’s future. It is giving people the chance to plan positively and will help deliver the homes and jobs their communities need to thrive,’ Clark added.

    Report this comment

    ryburgh

    Thursday, August 30, 2012

  • "Localism" is a giant con-trick perpetrated by an entirely dishonest Coalition Government which cannot even honour its manifestos; and is not worth the paper it's written on or the hot air spent lying about it.Watch out for new battles like Rissemere Lane in Reydon.We also need the promised right to recall MPs.

    Report this comment

    T Doff

    Thursday, August 30, 2012

  • Localism is the right to say 'Yes' to a development - but never 'NO'. In similar vein, a neighbourhood plan will allow locals to influence the design of a development, the look of a shop-front - but not whether the development goes ahead or not. Just look at the case of Great Ryburgh. Over 1000 local people and wildlife groups objected to the pointless relocation of a lorry park and fuel storage facility on environmentally sensitive land in the Wensum Valley. It was described as an environmental disaster waiting to happen. North Norfolk District Council approved it. Now the local community have been forced to take the council to Judicial Review - a process that will cost north norfolk's tax payers tens of thousands of pounds. A third party right of appeal would have saved the council tax payers thousands - and put paid to a development that even the council declared they couldn't guarentee wouldn't pollute the Wensum Valley.

    Report this comment

    matt champion

    Thursday, August 30, 2012

The views expressed in the above comments do not necessarily reflect the views of this site

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