Boles considers changes to speed up neighbourhood planning process

The government is considering changing the neighbourhood planning process to make it quicker and simpler, the planning minister Nick Boles said today.

Planning minister Nick Boles speaking at the TCPA conference
Planning minister Nick Boles speaking at the TCPA conference

Speaking at the Town and Country Planning Association's annual conference this morning, Boles also said encouraging long-term land ownership as a way of improving place-making was another possible area of reform.

Boles said neighbourhood planning, introduced by the Localism Act to allow communities to draw up development plans for their area, had been "a huge success" with 800 communities now involved.

But he said the government wanted to look at "which bits of the process were unnecessary or over-long".

He said: "We all recognise the full level of complexity is not suitable in every case. Is there an easier way of doing it?

"We want to hear from people who have done it and come up with something that may be an alternative to the full-blown system or a change in the full-blown system. I would love to hear feedback from the front-line."

The minister went on to say that his favourite places and developments all shared a "long-term owner and a long-term commitment" which was something the government wanted to encourage.

Boles mentioned Brooklands in Milton Keynes, Priors Hall in Corby, and Freiburg in Germany as contemporary examples of this.

He said: "The challenge for all of us is to ask what role does government at central and local level need to play to make it easier for people to be long-term owners who bring a long-term commitment and stick around for 30, 40, 50 or 100 years.

"When we are thinking about building on [previous planning reform], I hope what we will all be doing is thinking how can we make it easier for people to take a long-term substantial stake in a big scheme.

"How do we do it in the planning system or perhaps through compulsory purchase laws and make it easier financially, in terms of bridge financing?

"If we do so, then I think we will end up building places that in 150 years after they were built still be there and loved and cherished."

In his speech, Boles also admitted that when he started the job he was "something of a sceptic about planning".

He said: "I was not entirely persuaded that the Town and Country Planning Act had resulted in the country being more full of beautiful places than had pre-existed it.

"I'm now much more of a supporter of the planning system, which may surprise some of you given the things I've been saying."

Boles said the planning system had potential for both "enormous good" and "great harm".

At its best planning is one of the most "creative", "selfless" and "visionary" roles in public life, he said, but could also be "destructive and narrow-minded".

At the same session, Boles was accused of abdicating his responsibilities after ruling out the creation of new towns through central government intervention.

Catriona Riddell, the Planning Officers' Society spokeswoman for strategic planning, said: "Fundamentally, it's the role of central government to take responsibility for this.

"Your position is anti-democratic because you are elected to give responsible decisions on behalf of this country and you're not doing it."

Boles said he wanted to encourage large settlements with local communities' support but the government was "not in the business of imposing on areas and local communities".

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