The coalition government are committed to devolving down power to local communities - not just to local councils, but down further to local neighbourhoods, parishes and local residents. The Localism Act introduced a series of new community rights, including neighbourhood planning.
Under the last Administration, planning policy had become the preserve of regional quangos, municipal officers and non-governmental organisations, rather than local people. Neighbourhood planning has changed this by giving communities direct power to develop a shared vision for their neighbourhood and deliver the sustainable development they need.
Local communities can, for example, choose to set planning policies through a neighbourhood plan that is then used in determining planning applications. The government remain strongly committed to encouraging the preparation of neighbourhood plans, allowing local people to get the right type of development for their communities, while still meeting the needs of the wider area.
It is clear that communities have positively embraced these new powers, which go far beyond the traditional approach and also ensure real community involvement at every stage of the process. The number of areas having taken the first step in creating a neighbourhood plan by applying for neighbourhood area designation recently passed 1,000, and the 20 successful referendums so far have shown that local residents are succeeding in using their new power, creating plans that are now being used in determining applications and shaping development. This trend is set to continue.
The Secretary of State is keen that all planning appeal decisions should reflect the government’s clear policy intention when introducing neighbourhood planning, which was to provide a powerful set of tools for local people to ensure they get the right types of development for their community, while also planning positively to support strategic development needs. He is therefore keen to give particular scrutiny to planning appeals in, or close to, neighbourhood plan areas to enable him to consider the extent to which the government’s intentions are being achieved on the ground.
To this end, he proposes to amend the criteria for consideration of the recovery of planning appeals to include: proposals for residential development of over 10 units in areas where a qualifying body has submitted a neighbourhood plan proposal to the local planning authority or where a neighbourhood plan has been made.
For the avoidance of doubt, planning ‘recovery’ should not be confused with ‘call-in’ - where the original application decision is taken away from the council and made by ministers. Recovery involves ministers making appeal decisions that would otherwise be made by the Planning Inspectorate.
This new criterion is added to the recovery policy of 30 June 2008, Official Report, column 43WS, and will be applied for a period of 12 months from today (10 July 2014), after which it will be reviewed. This does not mean that all such appeals will be recovered, but that the Secretary of State is likely to recover a number of appeals.