Localism Bill becomes law while neighbourhood plans move forward

The Localism Bill received royal assent this week as neighbourhood plans, which are facilitated by the act, began to take shape across England.

Many of the Localism Act's provisions - which include the creation of neighbourhood planning forums, referendums on city mayors and a Community Right to Buy policy - are likely to come into force on 6 April 2012, according to law firm SJ Berwin.

Simon Ricketts, a partner at SJ Berwin, said that some of the provisions, such as the abolition of regional strategies, "may well come into force before that".

The Department for Communities and Local Government did not respond to Planning's enquiries about the exact dates for when provisions in the act will formally come into effect. But it confirmed that the neighbourhood planning provisions contained in the act are intended to begin in April.

Adam Royle, senior parliamentary officer at the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said that in theory the Localism Act would give local communities a greater say over what development takes place in their area. However, he said there are doubts over whether it would lead to a significant power shift because of the presumption in favour of sustainable development contained in the coalition's draft National Planning Policy Framework.

Meanwhile, a number of the government's first neighbourhood planning frontrunners have made progress on their plans' development.

Much Wenlock Town Council has identified six themes that it intends to explore during the development of its neighbourhood plan. These are sustainable community, housing needs including sites for new housing, jobs and the local economy, protecting the environment, improving community services and flood management.

Mike Grace, chair of the Much Wenlock neighbourhood plan steering group, said it hopes to finish its plan by December of next year.

A frontrunner from West Sussex, Littlehampton Town Council, has begun consulting with local residents on its neighbourhood plan. In the plan, it aims to tackle issues such as identifying suitable locations to build 200 proposed houses that have been earmarked for the area by Arun District Council.

Littlehampton Council has sent out 12,000 questionnaires to local residents asking what should be the plan's "top priorities". The deadline for responses is the end of this month and the council has so far received 230 responses. It intends to finalise the plan by July 2012.

Stratford-upon-Avon Town Council this week launched a consultation on its neighbourhood plan, which it hopes to finalise by December 2012.

The council's neighbourhood plan steering group is looking to examine five themes, including infrastructure, housing development and design, the needs of over-50s, youth and families and business and tourism.

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