Neighbourhood plan production must be backed with resources

Historians may dispute who coined the phrase "lies, damned lies and statistics", but there is no doubting the power of big numbers to attract or repel a point of contention.

For planners, the big number from the big society will come with the onset of neighbourhood plans. The final bill for these as yet unproven tools depends on the size and shape of each authority.

However, the cost of producing each neighbourhood plan is likely to be at least £30,000, while some commentators put it at closer to £80,000. Another estimate puts the number of rural and urban neighbourhoods affected by the localism bill at 18,000.

Even on the most conservative estimates, this suggests £540 million will be needed to secure national coverage. At a stroke, planning could be transformed from an income stream into a big spending service.

If such figures are plucked out of the air, this is inevitable. The government has failed to offer any kind of cost-benefit analysis of its proposals. However worthy the principles and visions of a particular policy, such a lacuna in an age of austerity is staggering. It is just the type of oversight that leads to unintended and damaging consequences.

No doubt some councils and communities will grab the bull by the horns and seek to do the best they can under the circumstances.

Ministers already concede that neighbourhood plans will not necessarily provide comprehensive coverage. This opens the door to concerns that the system could become driven by well-resourced individuals and businesses at the expense of the vulnerable and disadvantaged.

Planners will have their work cut out ensuring that this does not happen, while plugging growing skills and resources gaps.

The system could hit meltdown, with planning teams slashed to the bone hammered by appeals before they can get the plans in place that might just stem the deluge.

It may not be a popular message for ministers fixated on leaving individual plan-making authorities to their own devices, but any planning system worth its salt must be properly resourced. Badly resourced planning leads to bad planning, which is bad for the country.


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