Context 171 - March 2022

28 C O N T E X T 1 7 1 : M A R C H 2 0 2 2 DAVE CHETWYN Neighbourhood plans and heritage Neighbourhood plans have been a positive force for change, involving many more people in the planning of their area and with heritage playing an important role. It is around a decade since neighbourhood planning legislation was enacted. Neighbourhood plans have proved to be popular, with many communities and local councils spending serious time on their preparation. In urban and rural areas around England, neighbourhood plans are now part of the statutory development plan. There is no doubt that neighbourhood plans have supported and enabled additional growth. This is achieved through site allocations, amendment to settlement boundaries, and policies to support town centres, urban regeneration (and specifically heritage-led regeneration), employment and rural diversification. This was a point made in many responses to the 2020 Planning White Paper, which proposed a move away from neighbourhood planning, shifting power to local authority and central government levels. Indeed, neighbourhood plans are one of the few planning reforms that have actually worked in terms of enabling additional growth. Neighbourhood plans have raised the bar on community and stakeholder engagement in planning. Most plans demonstrate a good grasp of local issues and have a clear strategy for addressing them. The involvement of business and other stakeholders sometimes adds considerable expertise. However, this does not always translate into effective policies. As with local plans, the quality of policy drafting varies considerably. For this reason, some neighbourhood plans are being revised within a relatively short period of being made. Most plans deal with heritage in some way. This can be through specific heritage policies, but often heritage can be an issue in multiple policies, for example, those relating to town centres, housing growth, economic development and design. In many plans, heritage is an integral part of wider social, economic and environmental planning. How plans address heritage The relationship between heritage and housing growth is critical. The Blandford Forum Neighbourhood Plan made extensive site allocations around the north of the historic town centre. The plan has been ‘made’ and this will add to the town’s catchment population in future. Adding to catchment population of towns can improve their vitality and viability. This is not just about numbers; it helps to ensure that there is good pedestrian and cycle permeability and connectivity, supporting ease of movement between the sites and town centres. In recent plans, Urban Vision Enterprise has been looking at the correlation between heritage policies, and those relating to landscape and biodiversity. For example, protecting elements of character and protecting biodiversity in gardensuburb-based conservation areas can involve In Ramsgate, heritage is a key consideration in the neighbourhood planning process. (Photo: Dave Chetwyn)