Labour considering simplifying local and neighbourhood plans, says shadow minister

The Labour Party is considering simplifying the local and neighbourhood plan process and wants to give communities a 'much stronger voice' in the system, the shadow planning minister has revealed.

Labour's shadow planning minister Roberta Blackman-Woods speaking at the National Planning Summit yesterday
Labour's shadow planning minister Roberta Blackman-Woods speaking at the National Planning Summit yesterday

Shadow planning minister Roberta Blackman-Woods, speaking at Planning's National Planning Summit yesterday, said the party's planning commission, launched at its annual conference in September last year, wanted to give people "a much stronger voice in how their communities are shaped for the future".

"We are being very honest about this," she said. "It has to happen within a framework, so we are not giving carte blanche for people to say: ‘We don’t want any development thanks, we are happy as we are.'"

"Planning will have to happen, but I think our experience as a team is that if you involve people at a very early stage and give them the tools and support to plan their neighbourhood then they will do that because they want their children to grow up in a good environment and have access to jobs and transport and green spaces."

"It is really important that local communities can project what their ideas are into the planning system," Blackman-Woods said.

"We used to do that a lot more than we do it at the moment."

Blackman-Woods told the summit that the commission’s report would be published in November.

But she said some key themes had already emerged from the meetings the commission has held across the country since its launch at the party's annual conference last September.

"It is surprising how high up climate change issues and a better quality environment are to communities," Blackman-Woods said.

"People describe that in different ways, such as wanting more areas for their children to play or more green areas, but there are also comments about having a better quality offer of housing and a more diverse offer."

The commission would be looking at how to simplify plan-making, Blackman-Woods said, including at a national and regional tier and their relationship to local and community planning.

"We are a bit concerned that neighbourhood planning as it currently operates is quite complicated and it tends to be the more affluent neighbourhoods taking part," she said.

"We want a more simplified system which can be rolled out across the country probably at ward level-plans or parish plans."

Blackman-Woods said the commission wanted the planning system to redress spatial and regional inequality, but that it had not yet decided what to do about regional planning.

"That’s the bit that’s stumped us so far", she said. "At the moment we haven’t got the answers."

"The lesson we’ve learnt is that there is too much expectation in the current system about what planning can deliver in terms of infrastructure," she said.

"In some areas that is a lot, but in others it is very little, but this national system doesn’t reflect that."

The commission is seeking to create "a planning system for a 21st-century democracy", Blackman-Woods added.

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