Neighbourhood Planning: Back to the Future

It seems the death of neighbourhood planning implied by 2020’s Planning White Paper – likely quietly welcomed by many in the planning sector – has been exaggerated.

The Levelling Up & Regeneration Bill currently passing through Parliament contains a number of proposals to reaffirm the status of neighbourhood plans (and ‘priority statements’) in decision making, which rural communities should celebrate. Eleven years on, that’s somewhat of an indictment of how this Cinderella of the English plan making system has been treated. But, let’s be grateful for small mercies and relate this new love for them to some of the other moving cogs in that system.

None are more important than the proposed narrowing of the scope and the supposed simplification and speeding up of the process of making Local Plans. Long overdue, and hardly the first time these proposals have been made, but planning authorities being willing to do ‘less with less’ has got to be an important part of that new system. Across rural areas it is often the cold policy hand of the Local Plan with its site allocations and often ‘one-size-fits-all’ district wide policies, that has discouraged neighbourhood planning.

Left to focus on strategic spatial policy only, the space should be created for innovative, place making neighbourhood plans in towns and villages looking at their own visions to 2050 and beyond.

And the challenges facing rural communities are becoming more complex to think through and to address. The RTPI’s recent ‘Rural Planning in the 2020s’ report points to the combined economic, social and environmental effects of Brexit, Covid, climate change and demographic change on rural areas with some stark messages.

Having seen how some rural communities have tackled those issues I am optimistic that a renewed and supported neighbourhood planning regime stands a better chance of planning for change in the future. For sure, more rural stakeholders need to get involved, notably land interests with more than just a focus on selling land for housing. And more than the usual suspects need to be encouraged to engage in steering plans. But with greater incentive, and a broader policy canvas to paint, this should be possible, and does not need tinkering with the process.

That said there will be great importance placed on structuring the new neighbourhood planning support programme to meet expectations. The current programme ends in March 2023, though is likely to be extended a further year to buy DLUHC time to engage with the sector in designing the new one.

DLUHC’s own research has shown that the programme has been absolutely vital to the success of neighbourhood planning so far. If planning authorities retrench to focus on their new Local Plans, communities will rely more on accessing independent professional advice and expertise. Rural communities more than ever need to be able to have a real say in controlling their destinies.

Neil Homer MBA MRTPI

To find out more, visit:


Sign up to our newsletter to receive all the latest news and updates.