System tier fit questioned

Planners have raised fears over how neighbourhood plans will fit into the system and stressed the need for a link to national policy.

The government's local growth white paper, unveiled last week, confirms that a neighbourhood plan will form a tier of planning below the local development plan.

The plans will need to respect the overall national presumption in favour of sustainable development as well as other local priorities, such as the positioning of transport links and meeting housing need.

But BDOR director Jeff Bishop said there is no model for how top-down planning would meet neighbourhood planning. "There is a need to work something out between the regional and local levels," he said. "There are good components in the white paper, but no-one knows yet how it will all fit together."

He added that there are further issues over the extent to which local authorities would be willing and able to produce the plans. There are also questions over how effectively they would work in urban areas.

The Planning Officers Society agreed that urban neighbourhoods may be more difficult to define. It stressed the need to consult local people and businesses early in the plan-making process to define neighbourhood boundaries.

"Nevertheless, neighbourhood plans do have a place in the planning framework," maintained society spokesman John Silvester.

Savills head of planning and regeneration Roger Hepher said a potentially anarchic concept has been tempered by the need to respect local and national strategic priorities.

"Sustainable development is yet to be defined, but this could pave the way for a more developer-friendly system," he said.

Town and Country Planning Association chief executive Kate Henderson added: "Local and neighbourhood plans will need to have regard to national policy and establish the key strategic framework on infrastructure, as well as other local strategic priorities."

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