The Localism Act, which will come into force early next year, has the potential for introducing significant risk for our local environment.
The Act contains a number of provisions relevant to TARA, notably:
A Neighbourhood Plan will be, for a small local area, an extension of the Local Plan and will have to be considered when planning decisions are being made. It will have to be broadly consistent with the Local Plan and with national policy. It will be subject to various procedures including a local referendum.
Neighbourhood Development Orders could grant planning permission for specific developments, or for a class of development (for instance rooftop wind-generators), or could place conditions on development given permission by the General Development Order (for example to say that house extensions have to be faced with Bath stone). They will be subject to various procedures including a local referendum.
The Community Right to Build is a particular kind of neighbourhood development order, which would grant planning permission for specific developments. They will be subject to various procedures including a local referendum.
Owners of property on the List of Assets of Community Value will not be able to dispose of it without advertising the fact first so that a community organisation can make an offer for it.
Outside urban areas, most of these things will be dealt with by parish councils. In areas such as Bath there will have to be a process for identifying who can take action on them.
• Neighbourhood Plans and Neighbourhood Development Orders will be the responsibility of “Neighbourhood Forums” acting in “Neighbourhood Areas”. There can be only one Neighbourhood Forum in a Neighbourhood Area at a time, and it lasts for five years. Any organisation can offer itself as a Neighbourhood Forum, subject to certain restrictions, and B&NES will have the main role in deciding which of them go ahead in an area.
• The Community Right to Build is to be exercised by a “community organisation”, which is a “body
corporate established for the express purpose of furthering the social, economic and environmental well being of individuals living, or wanting to live, in a particular area”, and which meets other conditions which the Government sets out in regulations.
• Assets of Community Value may be nominated for a List by a voluntary or community body with a local connection (or otherwise as determined by a local authority), and it is the local authority which decides what goes on the list..
FoBRA, TARA and other residents’ associations are concerned at the risk that commercial developers may capture and exploit these mechanisms. Most of them would be pretty expensive to use (a neighbourhood plan could easily cost £50,000 or more), and it is unlikely most genuine community organisations would easily be able to afford to use them. We have drawn these concerns to the attention of B&NES, who are currently developing protocols for handling their own role in these processes.