How we did it: Taking control using local consent orders

A Sussex parish council has won backing for a set of orders permitting schemes of local community benefit. Susie Sell reports

Ferring team: (back) working group members Geoff Mines, Trevor Hill, Tony Cooper and Peter England; (front) CRTBO client group chair Paul Webster, assistant parish clerk Nadine Phibbs, parish council chair Carole Robertson, parish clerk Amanda Howcro
Ferring team: (back) working group members Geoff Mines, Trevor Hill, Tony Cooper and Peter England; (front) CRTBO client group chair Paul Webster, assistant parish clerk Nadine Phibbs, parish council chair Carole Robertson, parish clerk Amanda Howcro

Project: Ferring Neighbourhood Plan and Community Right to Build Orders, Sussex

Organisations involved: Ferring Parish Council, rCOH, Arun District Council, Action in Rural Sussex, Ferring Village Hall Trust, Glebelands Community Centre

Last month, Ferring Parish Council’s neighbourhood plan passed independent examination along with three community right to build orders (CRTBOs). This mechanism, introduced by the Localism Act 2011, allows communities to give planning permission for small-scale schemes that bring community benefits.

These orders are thought to be the first to pass examination. Examiner Clare Wright’s report confirms that all regulatory requirements are met. She also praises the community’s initiative in promoting them and the "boldness" of its approach.

The parish council embarked on its neighbourhood plan in 2011, under growing housing pressure. "It gave us the opportunity as residents to say what type of housing we wanted, where we were prepared to have it and what it should look like," council chair Carole Robertson explains.

Working groups were set up to research key issues and inform a comprehensive, parish-wide survey. Robertson says this found a clear need for more homes for elderly downsizers in a village where 43 per cent of residents are over 65, as well as opposition to large-scale schemes in the strategic gap beside the village.

At the same time, the parish had to raise nearly £500,000 to refurbish its community centre, which was near the end of its useful life. The idea of CRTBOs first arose during discussion of ways to resolve all these issues. "It was a complex but really rather elegant solution," says Robertson.

Key details of the proposed orders emerged in the draft neighbourhood plan, published in May 2013. The first order, which depends on finding land for replacement allotments, allows development behind a pub of up to 14 one and two-bedroom homes for elderly people. The second enables replacing an old village hall with up to ten one-bed flats. The third gives consent for a community centre.

The three orders are interrelated, so that revenue from the housing sites will help fund the community centre and allotments. Consultancy rCOH undertook a feasibility study of each site. The orders were then subject to consultation before being submitted for examination.

Neil Homer, director at rCOH, says it drew on experience of CRTBOs that failed to pass examination earlier this year at Slaugham, also in Sussex. He points to lessons around obligations to consult and to demonstrate regulatory compliance in the submission documents.

Robertson says the decision to pursue the CRTBOs undoubtedly complicated progress on the neighbourhood plan, which was submitted in final form this April. "They are not by any means an easy option. They are not something you would undertake lightly or without serious professional advice and help," she says.

However, she is convinced that the process has engaged a lot of people locally. While the proposals prompted some adverse responses at first, the situation has now changed. "When we launched the idea, it was probably a 60 to 70 per cent hostile reaction. I would say we have now got a 60 to 70 per cent positive reaction. But it’s taken a lot of hard work and communication," she says.

The orders and the neighbourhood plan will now be put to a referendum on 10 December and must be backed by more than 50 per cent to ensure approval. "This referendum is, without exaggeration, as important to our village as the Scottish one was to Scotland," says Robertson. "It’s the only chance we are going to get for the next 15 years to determine how our village and our community will grow and what it will look like."

If the proposals are passed, the first phase of homes could get under way within a couple of years. Robertson says the community centre could be delivered in the first five to seven years of the neighbourhood plan, which runs to 2029.

Homer says the key lesson for others looking to implement similar ventures is "don’t think that it can’t be done". He adds: "Don’t think that a local community will not want to support innovative ideas, or that it won’t want to be positive about development. Control over what that development is, and where and how it happens, is the essence of neighbourhood planning."

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