The impact of the Localism Act on the development community is clearly still taking shape and yet to be fully understood, according to the keynote speakers at the Place North West Understanding Localism conference.
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John Holmes, partner and head of planning at law firm Hill Dickinson, explained that 70% of councils don't have a local plan, the statutory planning guidance required by government, due to serious delays in getting through the process. Holmes said he is now seeing appeals to planning decisions where applications were refused because a local plan was missing.
Adrian Fisher, head of planning and housing at Cheshire East Council, echoed Holomes' introduction by confirming the council does not have an adopted core strategy.
In fact, Fisher's planning department is using the new neighbourhood plans brought in by the Localism Act to progress its core strategy, no doubt following suit with councils across the land. To date, there are four east Cheshire towns progressing neighbourhood plans.
The council is assisting local neighbourhood forum, independent groups of interested residents and business, with the technical process, providing "comfort", says Fisher.
Mark Howard and Matt Biagetti, founder members of one such neighbourhood forum in Wirral, Hoylake Village Life, explained that their group was formed before the Localism Bill was published and has grown into a neighbourhood forum to try and use some of the now Act's powers. Among Hoylake Village life's priorities are reducing the high shop vacancy rate in the coastal town, where there is a £15m retail market but potential for £45m. They have produced a design shop front guide, an eco tourism plan, proposed a new bridge over the rail line, hosted an arts festival and launched a community cinema. Unfortunately, says Biagetti and Howard, there is a "small clique locally that doesn't want change". The neighbourhood plan, if approved and adopted as planning guidance, can be used to overcome local objections.
Biagetti said: "The positive community work helps the forum get a mandate, then once you have people on board say 'we need a plan and pre-application support, let us take the decision to engage and consult before we have to', that way we can get it right."
John Quinton-Barber, director of IPB Communications, highlighted the importance of "hanging out where the silent majority congregate" – on social media websites such as Twitter and Facebook. "Supporters of your plans should be encouraged to take action and attend community events and relevant public meetings," he added.
Public support will now be measured at the appeal stages and developers should ensure everyone has an opportunity to comment on plans.
The challenges and the opportunities are there for developers and advisers to get to grips with, those that do so first will be the first winners in the Localism age.
Understanding Localism was held at Bruntwood's conference suite in City Tower, Manchester, and sponsored by IPB Communications and Hill Dickinson.
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