IT’S a “rollercoaster ride” of excitement and you can get paid thousands of pounds to do it – no wonder everyone’s at it.
More and more towns, villages and city boroughs are banding together to take back control of their own neighbourhoods.
If you want to fight the developers building homes on the field where you walk your dog or the woods you played in as a child, Neighbourhood Plans are the latest weapon.
Some 30 groups in Oxfordshire are currently writing up their own plans which they hope will lay down the law and give them more of a say on what development takes place in the area in which they live.
However, so far, the only plan that has been adopted is Thame.
The man who led the Thame Neighbourhood Plan, town councillor Mike Dyer, said it has been a great success.
“It is doing exactly what we hoped,” said Mr Dyer, “preserving the character of Thame.
“We see Thame as a pretty unique place – a genuine, proper market town, and we wanted new residents to assimilate.”
In 2011, when Thame first looked at the Neighbourhood Plan idea, South Oxfordshire District Council wanted to build 755 new homes on the edge of town.
“It would have created a new, separate community on the edge of the village,” said Mr Dyer.
“The feeling was that we couldn’t argue with the numbers, but we wanted to spread them around to help new residents integrate.”
The Neighbourhood Plan, passed by a village referendum with 76 per cent approval, requires that houses are built in smaller developments – infill sites where possible.
The team received £20,000 from the Department for Communities and Local Government towards the total cost which Mr Dyer said came to “six figures”.
The plan also stops developers from building “walled estates”, cut off from the rest of the town.
It prevents large food outlets from opening in the town centre and protects the historic cattle market building for mixed use and community facilities.
As a completed Neighbourhood Plan, it will also bring in £3m in government community infrastructure levy in the next 15 years.
Now, housing developers have to go to the town council for pre-application advice, to make sure their proposed estate fits in with the plan.
Taylor Wimpey is drawing up plans for 79 homes in the town.
The company’s senior planner for Oxfordshire, Andy Cattermole, said: “Having a Neighbourhood Plan in place has been hugely beneficial as it has enabled us to develop the right scheme for the local community which we know is in keeping with people’s requirements and aspirations for the sustainable growth of the area.”
Furthermore, when Oxfordshire County Council decides what financial contributions Taylor Wimpey must make to Thame to mitigate the impact of its development, those contributions will also have to accord with the Neighbourhood Plan.
The Thame plan was officially adopted in South Oxfordshire District Council’s core strategy for development last year.
That means if the district council turns down a planning application and the developer appeals against that decision, a planning inspector will be obliged to side with the council, so long as their reasons for refusal align with the Neighbourhood Plan.
Town councillor David Bretherton said: “It is having a huge effect.
“Developers now consult with us to say: ‘does this fit in with your plan?’”
Mr Bretherton said there were two small groups in the town who opposed the plan.
One was led by a landowner who was hoping to sell more of their land than the plan allows, and the other by a homeowner who lives next to a field approved for development.
Mr Dyer said: “It has been a rollercoaster of excitement but I wouldn’t recommend it for everyone.
“It is a long process, it can be expensive, and it entirely depends on the level of community agreement you get.
“It was well-suited to Thame because we have got such a strong community.”
- Watch Thame’s Neighbourhood Plan proposal video
‘I WANT TO PROTECT MY VILLAGE’
FATHER-of-two Jonathan Muller has no planning expertise, but he knows what he likes.
And he likes his village.
So when Hook Norton Parish Council put out the call for volunteers to lead the creation of a Neighbourhood Plan he put his hand up.
Now, after a village consultation, the team is gathering all its plans to submit them to a planning inspector for approval.
Mr Muller, 42, said: “I have two young children, age four and two, and think this village is a fantastic place to grow up, so I want to keep it that way.”
Recently, a plan for a 70-home estate in the village which Cherwell District Council refused was granted by a planning inspector on appeal.
Mr Muller said: “We began to feel it was important that we had planning control in our village, not the district council.”
The plan stipulates that houses should be built in smaller numbers, to help new residents integrate into the village.
However, in order for the village plan to be approved, it needs to be adopted into the Cherwell District Council Local Plan for development to 2031.
That was only submitted to a planning inspector for approval in January, and the earliest it might be adopted is the winter this year.
So until that is approved, the villagers can only hope that no more speculative plans are put in.
Mr Muller said: “We are trying to get as ready as possible, but we are aware there is a chance we won’t be able to have it examined.”
WHY VILLAGERS VOTED OVERWHELMINGLY AGAINST
ONE community which decided it wasn’t ready to build a Neighbourhood Plan is Grove.
At the parish council’s annual parish meeting last April, 40 residents who attended voted overwhelming against creating one.
The parish council had invited representatives to speak in favour and against the issue.
But, in retrospect, council chairman Frank Parnell said the speaker “against” may have been slightly too good.
He said: “I did find it frustrating.
“I don’t think the people from the Vale of White Horse District Council put over the case for a plan very well, how it could benefit us.”
Since then, two planning applications in Grove, one for 2,500 homes and another for 1,500 homes, have both been approved.
Although a Neighbourhood Plan couldn’t stop those developments, Mr Parnell still hopes it could shape them to fit in with the village.
“What it can do is help determine some of the stuff which goes into them and how they are designed and built.”
The parish council is now planning to reveal its first-draft vision for Grove in 2040 in its parish newsletter in April.
Mr Parnell said: “We need residents to take it forward.
“We wouldn’t have time to do it ourselves. We need a group who can take it forward with our support.”
- West Oxfordshire: Broadwell Village Neighbourhood Forum is in the process of creating the Broadwell Parish Neighbourhood Plan. A six-week consultation is open until March 31.
Chipping Norton Town Council is creating a Neighbourhood Plan
- Oxford: Wolvercote and Summertown/St Margaret’s wards both now have city council-approved neighbourhood areas and forums. They are now in the process of creating their Neighbourhood Plans.
Liz Grosvenor, left, and councillor Ruth Wilkinson in Headington. Picture: OX65422 Mark Hemsworth
Headington has applied to Oxford City Council to designate Headington Neighbourhood Area. A six-week consultation is open until March 28.
- Vale of White Horse: Drayton, Blewbury, Charney Bassett, Faringdon, Longworth, Great Coxwell, Stanford in the Vale and Wantage are all creating plans.
Drayton 2020 chairman Andrew Bax, centre, with vice-chairman Tom Shebbeare, left, and district and county councillor for Drayton Richard Webber. Picture: OX62131 Damian Halliwell
- South Oxfordshire: Thame, Woodcote, Benson, Berinsfield, Brightwell-cum-Sotwell, Chalgrove, Dorchester-on-Thames, Henley-Harpsden, Sonning Common and Watlington are all in the process of developing plans.
- Cherwell: Deddington, Merton, Adderbury, Hook Norton, Bloxham and Stratton Audley were all designated neighbourhood areas last year and can now begin creating plans for their areas.
WHAT ARE THEY?
- Neighbourhood Planning was created by the Localism Act 2011 to give local communities new rights and powers.
- They can be taken forward either by a parish council or, if there is no council, a neighbourhood forum.
- Only these groups can develop a Neighbourhood Plan. Under the Act, communities can also permit developments they want to see without the need for planning applications using Neighbourhood Development Orders.
- Neighbourhood Plans must accord with a district council’s Local Plan or Core Strategy for development.
- They must pass an area referendum and finally be approved by a government planning inspector.
- Once adopted, all housing developers putting in planning applications must ensure their plans accord with the Neighbourhood Plan.