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Furore over government planning changes to Neighbourhood Plans

25th February 2020

Furore over government planning changes to Neighbourhood Plans

There has been widespread shock and horror throughout Dorset over the realisation that most Neighbourhood Plans (NP) offer village residents protection from damaging speculative housing proposals for only two years, compared to the three to five years of laborious work most NPs take to complete.

When the Conservative-led government introduced the 2011 Localism Act, the message was that NPs would enable communities to shape the future of their local areas, and all over Dorset NP groups were formed. However, changes were made to the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) in 2018 but few noticed then a clause 14 (a) that limited protection to two years as applied to the “presumption in favour of sustainable development” where a local authority had less than five years housing land supply. Most of rural Dorset has less than the five years. CPRE did comment then about “the discouragement of neighbourhood planning because of the uncertainty over the validity of plans older than two years” while Jo Witherden, a local planning consultant, “…had been aware of this issue and I encouraged my NP groups to try and lobby various bodies” back in 2018. Little notice was taken either by government or local authorities, who continued to encourage villages to invest their volunteers’ considerable time over the many years it usually takes to complete a NP.

The catalyst of this growing realisation in Dorset was a current planning proposal for nine houses just outside the settlement boundary of Bourton, in north Dorset. Their NP was adopted in January 2018 with much fanfare after five years of hard work, but they are now vulnerable. In Bourton the NP was based on the premise that it would provide the framework for change until 2031. Peter Williams, an ex-councillor for North Dorset, chairs the Planning Sub-Committee of the parish council, and is appalled, “…to now be told that all the time and effort was only good for two years, due to a clause which had been slipped into the NPPF 2018 document, represents a total betrayal of local communities, as well as a serious waste of public funds”. Dozens of Dorset villages have adopted NPs in the last few years, while others are still going through the lengthy process, little realising what limited protection NPs afford. Are they worth the effort?

There are hopes of another government update to the NPPF this autumn, so there is need now to lobby hard our MPs and Ministers, and our Council, to correct these grievous oversights.


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