How will the Localism Bill work in Norfolk?

For decades the government has been accused of having a 'one-size fits all' attitude for communities across the country.

The current coalition government has said this has led to a lack of opportunity for communities to influence the future of the places they live and many people feeling their good ideas have been overlooked.

But under the Localism Bill, the government claims new powers will be given to groups and individuals to make it easier for them to achieve their ambitions for their communities.

Potentially, the most exciting of these is the chance for people to come together through a parish council or neighbourhood forum and draw up a 'neighbourhood development plan'.

People will be able to say where they think new houses, business and shops should go and voice opinions on what new development should look like.

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The main difference between the well-established community-led local plans and the proposed neighbourhood plans is that the former only sets out a vision for the future of a community whereas the latter will set out policies against which traditional planning applications could be judged.

The government has said the plans can be very simple, or go into considerable detail – with the former being seen as the more likely option for communities and will give people a powerful voice in shaping the future of their area.

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Another power the government wants to give to communities is the ability to grant full or outline planning permission in areas where they want to see new development.

The government says this will make it easier and quicker for new homes and businesses to be built but has not specified exactly how this would work.

Robert Ashton, trustee at Norfolk Community Foundation, believes communities across the region will embrace this new power.

He said: 'People tend to know what's right for their community. The more that top down policy and planning rules are forced upon us, the more we get stuff that doesn't fit.

'The government in the past has been guilty of having a one-size fits all policy and for years we have pointed out Norfolk is very different to other counties.

'I think people across the county do want to be pro-active, and by giving more power to parish councils more people will get involved and I can see this neighbourhood plan idea working.

'I hope the government produces a simple methodology that communities can use so that these plans do not cost a lot of money.

'Two pages of well-thought out and well-worded village strategy is much better than an expensive piece of work.'

As part of neighbourhood planning, the bill will give groups of people the ability to bring forward small developments which could include new homes, businesses and shops.

Mr Ashton added: 'It will allow communities to push for development like low-cost homes which will help young people stay in the village rather than be priced out.'

Jon Clemo, from the Norfolk Rural Community Council, has said there are communities across the county which have already come together to form such plans.

He said: 'We have about 150 completed community-led plans already with an average response of 67pc which is great compared to most commercial surveys that get around 10pc. These type of plans work because they are community led and people like being involved in a way that works for them and on issues relating to them.

'Neighbourhood plans take this a step forward and focus on building and development and I think they will work here in Norfolk. There are plenty of communities which have a pro-active attitude towards growth and development and will see this as an opportunity to make things happen.

'We support the principle for communities to have a greater say on planning and development and the ability to shape the environment around them.'

The main concerns from both Mr Ashton and Mr Clemo is the cost to the taxpayer to bring the plans together. Mr Clemo continued: 'Even taking the lowest cost that has been suggested, it would be a huge amount of money to get plans back from the hundreds of parishes across the region. My concern about these plans is that this could be financially crippling for local authorities in times when they are cutting back.

'I wonder whether or not this is the most cost-effective way of doing this and getting the same result.'

The other major hurdle to get these plans finalised is ensuring they are in accordance with national planning policy and the local authority's Local Development Framework.

Crucially a majority of local residents will have to endorse the plan in a local referendum which could be problematic and further add to the cost.

Tomorrow we explore how the Localism Bill will give people the opportunity to call referenda and fears this will give rise to NIMBYism.

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