Neighbourhood plans are fairly new, and still unusual in London. They are the most local and detailed layer of a planning system which (in London) involves several layers:
- the National Planning Policy Framework
- the London Plan (now being reviewed by Mayor Sadiq Khan)
- the Local Plans of the London Boroughs, and the Local Plans of the two Mayoral Development Corporations (the OPDC and the London Legacy Development Corporation).
There are now over 300 neighbourhood plans in place across England. The policies in these plans are in daily use by planning officers across the country. Progress on neighbourhood planning has been relatively slow in London, for a range of reasons (see at http://www.neighbourhoodplanners.london/ for more background). Around 100 London neighbourhood forums are working on plans, but only a handful have reached the referendum stage as of 2017. More will follow.
Can a neighbourhood plan have any real impact?
The Government introduced neighbourhood planning as a ‘powerful tool’ to allow local people to decide what sort of development they wanted to see (and where) in their own village, town, or city neighbourhood. Government strongly supports neighbourhood planning. In more rural areas, it is seen as a way of achieving more and faster housing development, as compared with the slow process through which many District Councils revise their Local Plans.
In big cities, the picture is different. London has enormously high land values for residential and office development. Planning decisions are made under different pressures. Major developers wield a lot of power and influence.
The public find the planning process hard to engage with. New buildings in London are sometimes popular, but often seen as too big, too tall, or failing to fit in with their surroundings. Many apartment blocks are unaffordable for most Londoners.
Neighbourhood plans are not a route to ‘nimbyism’ or to stopping all development. Each plan, when completed is independently ‘examined’ by a qualified professional. Each plan has to meet a series of tests, before it is voted on by local residents. A small number of draft plans have been stopped in their tracks, before a vote is held, as being ‘over-restrictive’ or failing to comply with a set of ‘basic conditions’ set out in the Localism Act.
But the vast majority of neighbourhood plans which are completed do progress to a referendum, and to adoption by the local planning authority. The various ‘examiners’ of these plans recognise the level of valuable local knowledge that has gone into their preparation. Some neighbourhood plans are introducing policies which break new ground in encouraging some forms of development and resisting others.
An example of a London neighbourhood plan can be seen here. The St Quintin and Woodlands Neighbourhood Plan covers a part of North Kensington, immediately adjacent to the OPDC boundary. The Plan was supported by a 92% majority on a 23% turnout, at its referendum in February 2016.
While the new policies introduced by the StQW Plan ‘generally conform’ with those of RB Kensington and Chelsea’s Local Plan (as the legislation requires) they involve some changes to Council policies, Local people wanted to see such changes.
The Plan allocates sites for housing at locations which the neighbourhood forum decided on, rather than developers and landowners. The StQW Plan designates three ‘Local Green Spaces’ which residents wanted to protect from development. The independent examiner supported these proposals. The Council now applies the StQW Forum’s planning policies whereas it previously considered one of the sites to be suitable for a new housing development.
Old Oak is an area where huge infrastructure proposals will be built over the next decade, with two rail stations, two new Overground stations, roads, bridges and tunnels. We wanted an Old Oak Neighbourhood Plan to have the opportunity to include polices and proposals across the whole Ola Oak area. But decisions by the OPDC and by Hammersmith & Fulham Council will constrain the coverage of the plan to a 22 hectare area on the western side of Wormwood Scrubs, as designated by the OPDC in September 2017.
There remains local interest in widening the scope for neighbourhood planning to contribute to the future of the Old Oak area, and this may not be the last of decisions on designation of areas. Meanwhile, the old Oak Interim Neighbourhood Forum has submitted comments on the OPDC Local Plan and looks forwards to the Examination in Public of this document (due early 2018). See under our OPDC Local Plan page for more information.