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Neighbourhood Planning in practise

Friday, 14 December 2012 14:52

West Yorkshire's experiences with forming a Neighbourhood Forum.

The Localism Act which became law at the end of last year, allows communities to have a say in their future, by drawing up a “Neighbourhood Plan”. This plan can prioritise where and what type of development the community would like to see developed, as well as identifying amenities it wishes to safeguard and the resources, such as more school capacity, that would be required as a result of new developments.   The Localism Act identifies Parish or Town Councils as bodies who can draw up a Neighbourhood Plan, but for areas where no such councils exist, it gives less guidance. It states that in such areas, a Neighbourhood Forum may be formed. This must have a constitution, have at least 21 members who live, work or carry out business in the area, and be open to all such people. A Neighbourhood Forum has to be recognised by the local authority, who must be satisfied that the Forum was formed after proper consultation. It will also scrutinise the proposed area to be covered by the Forum, to check that it is consistent with local boundaries and does not overlap another Forum’s area.

The villages of Oulton and Woodlesford, which lie to the South East of Leeds, are in the process of setting up a Forum. The pathway we have taken began with an Open Meeting at the end of last year to discuss the Localism Act. This meeting was greatly aided by material from CPRE and served as a warm up for the community to start familiarising them with Neighbourhood Planning. The meeting was well attended and the question and answer session was valuable/ After this, I called two informal meetings of people representing various organisations within the villages, to discuss how best we should go about setting up a Forum. We recognised that it was essential to publicise the first Open Meeting as widely as possible. In the end a flyer was delivered to every dwelling in the area as well as notices being posted widely throughout the villages. A Neighbourhood Plan concerns not only those who live, work or do business in the area, but also those who use the facilities within the area and so the parents of all children attending our two primary schools also received a flyer. We made personal contact with over two thirds of the businesses in the area stressing the importance of their involvement. Meanwhile I have had meetings with those responsible for Neighbourhood Planning in the Leeds City planning department, whose advice has been invaluable. They have stressed the necessity of showing that the Forum is inclusive. It must have membership from all localities within its area as well as all age groups. Record keeping is therefore essential.

The first Open General Meeting of the Oulton and Woodlesford Neighbourhood Forum was held on November 4th. It was attended by over 130 people, including a member of the Leeds Planning Department, our local Ward councillors and representatives of nearby Parish Councils (another important consideration is that Neighbourhood Planning should not be carried out in a vacuum, so cross-talk between neighbours is important). Our local MP was unable to attend but sent a strong letter of support. At the meeting there was unanimous support for a motion to establish a Forum, and perhaps surprisingly, there was no difficulty in finding volunteers to serve on the Steering Group. We have recruited a talented team, including a retired lawyer, a retired planner, a retired architect, the local post-mistress, two others who have businesses in the area, one of our local Ward councillors and the Chairman of Governors of one of our local primary schools. This augers well for the future. Our first task is to agree a constitution. I have drafted one based on a number of Forum constitutions available on the web, and it has been looked at by experts both in CPRE and in the Leeds planning office, who have given me helpful feedback.   We also need to discuss the precise boundary of the proposed Forum. Here we have to check with our neighbouring localities that our proposed mutual boundaries are acceptable. Another important input is local knowledge. Residents often have strong opinions as to which locality they reside in! Discussion with Leeds is continuing and we hope we will be ready to make a formal request for recognition soon.

Once this is given, the real hard work - drawing up the Neighbourhood Plan - begins. This is for us, an uncharted area, but our Steering Group has much talent within it, so there is every hope that progress can be made. Finance is one question that frequently surfaces. To get to where we are now has involved a lot of work but not much expense. Our only costs have been for printing and for the hire of a local hall. Although expenses are on-going, they have so far only amounted to about £200. Drafting the plan will be more costly, especially if we think it is necessary to pay professional planning consultants. Once our way ahead becomes clearer, we will attempt to identify possible sources of funding, but we are not naïve, we know this is the difficult bit!

David Cove

Chairman, Oulton and Woodlesford Neighbourhood Forum.

Trustee, West Yorkshire area, CPRE.

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