Poorer areas see few neighbourhood plan applications

Town halls in England's most deprived areas are the least likely to have received applications from local groups to take on neighbourhood planning powers, an investigation by Planning has found.

Approved: the neighbourhood plan for Upper Eden, Cumbria, was the first to win assent

Figures obtained by Planning following Freedom of Information requests to all of England's local planning authorities reveal that there have been 433 applications from local groups to take on the powers to draw up neighbourhood plans for their areas.

But only about a tenth of these applications have been made in the 20 per cent most disadvantaged local authorities, the figures show.

The Localism Act last year introduced laws intended to allow communities to shape local development by drawing up plans.

To begin the process, community groups have to apply to their local planning authority for approval to draw up a neighbourhood plan. They also have to get council approval of the area the document would cover, as do parish councils.

Earlier this month, a neighbourhood plan covering parishes in Upper Eden, Cumbria, became the first to be approved at a local referendum (see feature).

At the time of publication, 293 councils had responded to Planning's request for information on levels of neighbourhood planning activity.

Click here to view an interactive map of neighbourhood plan activity.

The figures reveal that 227 of the 433 applications from parish councils and prospective neighbourhood forums have been officially designated, meaning they have been granted permission to pursue neighbourhood planning.

But in the 20 per cent most deprived authorities, according to the Indices of Multiple Deprivation 2010, there were just 45 applications, of which 20 have been designated.

In contrast, there were more than twice as many applications - 92, with 60 designated - to the fifth of councils with the lowest deprivation rates, the analysis reveals.

The figures also show that about three-quarters of the applications have been to councils under Conservative political control.

The South East has the most neighbourhood planning activity with 124 applications, around 30 per cent of the national total.

Jason Towell, a partner at law firm Cripps Harries Hall, said: "Neighbourhood planning is quite an expensive process, with the need for consultant support. If you are in a very wealthy parish, you can employ people to assist you in drawing up a neighbourhood plan."

In his experience, Towell said, less deprived communities may also be more inclined to resist development, and may get involved in neighbourhood planning to achieve this end.

Duncan Field, a partner at law firm Wragge & Co, said: "People in more deprived areas tend to have greater pressures on their lives and perhaps don't see the planning system or politics as a way of resolving them."

A spokeswoman for the Department for Communities and Local Government said there was "huge interest in neighbourhood planning" around the country.