The National Rural Conference 2024

The Rural Services Network (RSN) is thrilled to announce the National Rural Conference 2024, taking place from 16th to 19th September. This virtual event, accessible via Zoom, is the premier gathering for senior officers, members, policymakers, and rural service professionals.
Further information and booking details can be found here

ONH is expanding its services

ONH Planning for Good is the new brand name of RCOH Ltd, a planning and development consultancy founded in 2011 in rural west Oxfordshire to enable local communities to punch their weight in the planning system.

As the days of neighbourhood planning may be numbered, ONH is expanding its other services for town and parish councils, most of which operate in rural areas. Although best known for its neighbourhood planning support services – 200 projects and counting – it has always helped communities to comment on emerging Local Plans and major planning applications and appeals.

A combination of the changes to plan making legislated for in last year’s Levelling Up & Regeneration Act (LURA) and further county or cross-county based policy making will make it even more important for local councils to be effective in shaping policies.

The new 30-month time limit for Local Plan preparation, examination and adoption will require a sharper focus by local councils to anticipate and engage with the process. Planning authorities will only have time to paint broad spatial policy brushstrokes, not to fill in the details, creating policy space for local councils to occupy. And with the expectation of more Joint Local Plan making, and plan making in unitary authorities anyway, policy could feel more remote from rural areas with distinct needs and wants.

Labour’s 2020 Planning Commission recommended that neighbourhood planning should be abandoned in favour of community plans. If it forms the new government, it has pledged to reshape the planning system to deliver housing growth as a priority. It can do so easily and quickly by bringing forward the missing secondary legislation to enact LURA, by changing the NPPF and by shifting resources.

This could mean that its ‘community plans’ are in effect LURA’s Neighbourhood Priorities Statements, which become the formal means by which communities, via their local councils in parished areas, engage with Local Plan making, as in the South Downs National Park. Without legislative and resource support, neighbourhood planning may be left to wither on the vine.

In which case, rural communities should be planning ahead, as either individual or groupings of local councils sharing a common geography and issues. They should be thinking about preparing for the prospect of this new world now as it may be here by the end of 2025. With a new government likely to be more urban growth focused there is a danger that rural areas will be an afterthought and the subject of urban expansions.

For its part, ONH is looking to bring together interested parties this year to look at how the best of neighbourhood planning can be exported into the new world. It will be engaging with organisations like NALC (and some of its county-based associations) and SLCC and talking to its many past and present local council clients to inform its thinking.

ONH will be publishing a new monthly newsletter for local councils. If your council would like to be on mailing list then send an email to info@oneillhomer.co.uk.

Neil Homer is managing director at ONH Planning for Good.

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