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The Localism Act...From a planning point of viewBy: Matthew Halstead, Principal Planner, Alder King Planning Consultants

Among the myriad of legislative changes to the planning system introduced by the Localism Act, one that has caused particular consternation amongst both the private and public sectors has been the abolition of Regional Strategies (RS). In the build up to the General Election, Conservative Party rhetoric focused on the aspiration to rid the planning system of top down planning in favour of community empowerment.

However, I am firmly of the opinion that the abolition of the regional tier of planning will have serious detrimental impacts for communities, as the RSs were the only planning mechanism to ensure the co-ordinated delivery of much needed housing and employment provision along with strategic infrastructure.

To compensate for the lack of a strategic planning tier, the Localism Act now imposes the requirement for Local Authorities to work together under the ‘Duty to Co-operate’ to ensure the delivery of strategic development. However, from our experience of some Local Authorities, this co-operation has not taken place effectively, with much needed strategic development not being met.

This failure to deliver strategic growth is clearly at odds with the Coalition Government’s Agenda for Growth and could have further implications for an economy trying desperately to claw its way out of a second recession by causing confusion, delay and further cost to the development process.

At the local level, the aspirations for greater community engagement are commendable, especially the notion of Neighbourhood Planning. However, a critical flaw in the process is the need for a Neighbourhood Plan to be adopted following a referendum at the end of the planning process. Placing such a critical hurdle at the end of what will be a costly and protracted process will we suspect deter community groups from taking part. Furthermore, on the basis that any Neighbourhood Plan must maintain conformity with Local Plans, and therefore cannot be used as a means to challenge development, again may deter community groups from engaging with the neighbourhood planning process.

Given the cost implications and associated uncertainties of pursuing neigbourhood planning, there is a real risk that the only sectors of the community able to engage in the process will be those who have the deepest pockets and the ability to shout the loudest. This then leaves the question as to whether those individuals in need of development can effectively make themselves heard?  

Matthew Halstead, Alder King Planning Consultants

About the author

Matthew Halstead has ten years planning experience working in both the public and private sectors. He is currently involved in a number of major planning applications, including proposals for an urban extension at south west Bristol and also a 90 ha Energy Park at north east Bridgwater. Matthew is an ardent fan of Burnley Football Club.

Features July 2012

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