Perplexing times for the parish

Parish plans could conflict with district councils' strategic priorities, warns Graeme Bell

"No. No. No. No. Yes!" Councillor Giles was nothing if not decisive. The agenda item was the proposed neighbourhood plan for the village.

The parish council chairman, Brigadier "Blaster" Bates, called the meeting to order. "In that case, we're all agreed and we'll press the district council to approve our application to make a neighbourhood plan, including our proposal for new housing."

It had been a long meeting. The clerk had reminded them that their parish plan, which had been gathering dust, only needed refreshing to turn it into a proper development plan. No longer would they send their comments to the district council only to find them ignored. "We feature in the consultation section of their reports, lumped alongside organisations that we never see in the village," the brigadier had fumed. "This'll put us in the driving seat. As parish councillors, we'll have proper jobs!"

"I hate to be a party pooper, chairman," said the district planning officer, there as an observer, "but national guidance and the local development framework concentrate all new housing in the towns and key settlements where it's easier to provide services and reduce the need to travel. And the cuts will mean that services will be concentrated even more. Your parish plan proposal for new homes is in conflict with the district council's strategic priorities that have just been agreed in the core strategy of the local development framework." At this point, several councillors started to glaze over. "They may not allow you to include housing in your plan."

The shrapnel still in Blaster's bottom never enabled him to relax and with victory in his sights he was damned if he was going to see this initiative slip into the slime of bureaucracy. "Who knows this patch better than we do?" Nods rippled around the room. "And Lady Trevelyan has offered the land free for affordable housing for youngsters in the village who can't afford to buy. It'll help keep our school open, the shop trading and reduce the need for people to travel - that's sustainable development, surely?" Warming to his task, he continued: "And we can get this bonus they talk about for new homes. That should pay for lots of things like gritting our lanes and cutting the verges now that county don't do it, and the playground needs a makeover. Without young blood, our village will die."

Once again, the man in the suit felt impelled to intervene. "Well, I'm not sure about the bonus, chairman. You see, that money is really for the cou-ncil that provides the services and that's mostly the district. The parish might have to negotiate to see how much it would allow you to have."

The vicar saw Blaster was close to being incendiary and sensibly intervened. "I think that we should pray for heavenly guidance." Amen to that.

Graeme Bell is a board member of Planning for Real and past chair of trustees of the Neighbourhood Initiatives Foundation. He acknowledges inspiration from The Vicar of Dibley and the many parish meetings he has attended.

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