New planning minister urges neighbourhoods to select areas for homes
Norfolk and Suffolk neighbourhoods which fear 'inappropriate' development in their villages and towns should get together to earmark a place they do want them, the new housing minister has said.
Brandon Lewis, who is also MP for Great Yarmouth, said the process of creating a 'neighbourhood development plan' could also bring villagers closer together.
Norfolk has three of the 18 neighbourhood plans which are now in force across the country – in Cringleford, Strumpshaw and Sprowston – with a further 15 in Norfolk, 13 in Suffolk and eight in Cambridgeshire villages and towns currently in the pipeline.
But while the new plans introduced through the Localism Act in April 2012, allow communities to set out where new homes and offices should be built, and what they should look like, they have come under fire for not giving communities any real power as they must still take into account the local council assessment of housing and other development needs in the wider area.
But Mr Lewis said he believed that people in rural communities were not necessarily against planning and housing, and the plans would give them the power to ask for 'fitting and appropriate' homes and offices.
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'I have talked to some people in villages and parishes in my constituency,' he said. 'They are not against having any houses built, they just don't need 500.
'Four or five being built for the children, grandchildren or people to downsize to so the community has got room to grow itself is quite sensible. We don't just want to see housing estates built. We want to see places that people want to live.'
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The average approval rating for a neighbourhood plan has been around 89% and Mr Lewis said that an average turnout in the 'high thirty per cents' – higher than most local authority elections – meant people were being engaged.
'Because it is design by the community, for the community, they are backing it,' he said.
Mr Lewis also claimed that the process of writing a neighbourhood plan was bringing neighbourhoods together. 'It is getting people in villages coming out and talking to each other and discussing things about the future of their area. On lots of levels it is a really positive thing.'
He also claimed that with more projects of five, 10 or 15 houses there were opportunities for the smaller builders. 'Encouraging those small builders is a good thing. They tend to employ from the local community, their supply chain is in the local community, so I would like to see a lot more small builders out there building those five, 10, 15 house estates – and they do it to a good quality generally.'
• Is your community pulling together a neighbourhood plan? Email email@example.com