Government could ask experts to help struggling neighbourhood plan groups, says Barwell

Struggling neighbourhood planning groups could be offered help by government-commissioned experts, planning minister Gavin Barwell has told a Conservative Party conference fringe event.

Neighbourhood planning: Barwell suggests poorer areas could receive help in drawing up plans
Neighbourhood planning: Barwell suggests poorer areas could receive help in drawing up plans

Speaking at an event organised by think-tank Respublica yesterday evening, Barwell said he wants to see more neighbourhood plans drawn up in deprived urban areas, where take-up of the policy has been low.

He said: "The real challenge is to make sure neighbourhood planning is adopted uniformly across the country, so deprived communities make use of it as much as more affluent areas. That’s something I’m looking at at the moment. It’s not impossible."

Barwell said the problem is most acute in areas that are highly transient, with a high turnover of people moving in and out and little "sense of community".

He added: "We need to look as a government about what we can do to resource people to assist these areas to make use of these powers. I think it’s about paying for some people who could go around the country and help people who want to take forward these ideas, who can hold people’s hands and take them through the process and provide the necessary advice and experience."

Barwell said he is a "passionate believer" in neighbourhood planning and that if people have more control over their environment they tend to support more development.

Elsewhere, Barwell said the government wants to push for "high-density housing in some parts of the country" and said higher density should not be associated with lower-quality homes. He said: "It doesn’t mean we will be building tower blocks everywhere."

The minister went on to say that he expects "real debate" over the Neighbourhood Planning Bill’s proposals to limit the use of planning conditions by councils"There’s real evidence that some local authorities are making far too much use of pre-commencement conditions. We want to take issue with that."

Speaking at the same event, Julia Unwin, chief executive of charity the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said that neighbourhood planning currently "locks out" many of the poorer neighbourhoods.

Unwin also said the situation with housing transience is getting worse, with tenants being uprooted from long-term social housing and becoming more reliant on the private rented sector. "We need to create more stability and security in those neighbourhoods," she told the meeting.


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