Cornwall Environmental Consultants Ltd

Neighbourhood Planning – why bother?

Lucy Wilson-Richards is a Falmouth resident and a Chartered Landscape Architect at Cornwall Environmental Consultants (CEC), a not-for-profit environmental consultancy based in Truro.

Planning policy and development proposals have traditionally been seen as something many of us have little time or inclination to get involved with, unless it’s part of our job or directly affects us, but recent changes to the planning system will change that. 

Government intends to condense and simplify reams of policy documents and guidance notes across the country into an accessible and not overly prescriptive ‘Core Strategy’ for each local authority area which will be supported by ‘Supplementary Planning Guidance’ and ‘Neighbourhood Plans’.

The Core Strategy contains general policies for the area, such as preserving the quality of the environment and requiring new development to be sustainable.  Supplementary Planning Guidance could include Area Design Guides, or advice on renewable energy development.  So far, not particularly inspiring? 

It is the Neighbourhood Plans that will be crucial to making sure what happens on the ground is what local communities want.  This is where we can all make our voices heard, with advice and support from Cornwall Council and the many planning and design professionals local to the area such as CEC, the consultancy of Cornwall Wildlife Trust with 20 years experience working with communities and developers on innovative and sustainable projects.  Work has already started on a plan for the Truro area and discussions are underway for Falmouth and other towns.

In areas with a Parish or Town Council these bodies have to take the lead in preparing a Neighbourhood Plan, but they must involve the local community to make it an effective document.  This isn’t easy when people may feel they have been ‘consulted’ far too much over the past few years and what they say isn’t seen to make a difference, or they don’t really know where to start so would rather leave it to someone else, but it really is a case of  ‘speak now or forever hold your peace’.  If a Neighbourhood Plan doesn’t exist, the only guidance and protection against inappropriate development will be the Core Strategy, as this is limited in its detail with a presumption in favour of development it will make it a lot more difficult to turn down such proposals.  The consultation on Cornwall’s Core Strategy may be over but the next stage is just beginning, where everybody has a chance to make a difference.

Neighbourhood Plans should look at all aspects of the area’s environment, economy, housing, community facilities and infrastructure.  It will be used to guide appropriate and high quality development that is locally and globally sustainable and things that really need to be improved.  To do this local community groups should survey their area on the ground and explore the many sources of online records and archives to build up a detailed picture of the existing situation.  Then, through open consultation and workshop events, the themes of the plan can be pulled together into a ‘Development Strategy’ based on a series of local policies and targets which work for the community involved. 

Photographs and plans are a useful communication tool during the preparation of the Plan and in its final version; if presented clearly they can convey more information than several pages of text.  The final Plan should be a combination of the two, with maps showing what should happen where, backed up by text explanations.  The Plan will also show how this all links together within the area and to neighbouring areas. 

All this may sound daunting, or boring, but you may be surprised at the wealth of knowledge, inspiration and passion in your local area, – perhaps you may enjoy shaping the future of where you live!

This entry was posted on Monday, April 2nd, 2012 at 1:11 pm and is filed under News.

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