BLINDINGLY OBVIOUS - this is NOT the voice of Blisworth Parish Council


Our Opportunity to Influence Planning ?

Government's way of getting Volunteers to do some Work?

This article was posted in November 2011 in anticipation of the debate on the
subject of "Neighbourhood Planning".  On Feb 7th 2012 in a Parish Council
meeting a discussion on this was triggered by an informal talk given by Ms. Milner
from ACRE.  It was revealed that neighbourhood plans worked up to a full legal
status may cost from £17000 to £63000 and indeed provide the village with a
control over the nature of development.  What the set up could not be permitted
to do was to place an obstacle in the way of development - central and local
government have total "control" over that.  For many, the expense and the
relatively toothless feature of a neighbourhood plan renders it unattractive.  The
idea of including adjacent fields as visual amenity (see below*) in the plans may
prove to be inadmissible.


In an introduction to neighbourhood planning, this is what a government leaflet tells us:

"Neighbourhood planning is a new way for communities to decide
the future of the places where they live and work"

They will be able to:
• choose where they want new homes, shops and offices to be built.
• have their say on what those new buildings should look like.
• grant planning permission for the new buildings they want to see go ahead.

The Government wants to introduce the right to do neighbourhood planning through the Localism Bill. The Localism Bill is being debated by Parliament at the moment and by the time this article has been posted will be nearing full status.

There are already a large number of Parish Councils who are 'piloting' this scheme and one of them is quite near to Blisworth; Wootton and East Hunsbury Parish Council.  The scheme is promoted in detail (but not in a very coherent written format) at a dedicated website:

Much of the documentation has been published within the last two months and the details are presented for consultation until early January 2012.  Any member of the public or any organisation such as our Parish Council may comment in detail, if they wish.


Notes for our Parish Council:   It appears we are invited to designate neighbourhoods and then, at certain stages in the future, exercise our right to be the planning authority. At least so much is certain but the following notes and suggestions are a result of a reading of documents at the abovementioned website.  Some of this may be incorrect.  SNC has recently published a guide and protocol for neighbourhood plans and you can download it here.  It must be borne in mind that any plan must comply with the terms of the local strategic plan ie. if such plan stipulates a certain growth in housing for this area then our plan has to agree with that.

There seems little point in our just having one neighbourhood, we can take advantage of the various natural differences in parts of the village and create a small number of neighbourhoods.  *It seems that we really need to include all contiguous fields around the village into our neighbourhoods so that we can have a say in their future development.  We can legitimately refer to them as the visual amenity (primarily) associated with each of the neighborhoods.  However, the SNC has re-stated the reminder that the village Confines Boundaries will be reviewed soon and this may cut across our desire to preserve visual amenity.  The Googled map of the village below gives you one suggestion for the neighbourhoods – please don’t get hung up on the details of these boundaries at this stage.

Thus, purely (and this adverb cannot be over-emphasised)as examples, there are outlined three neighbourhoods including the nearby fields plus a "rural neighbourhood".  These are outlined in red as follows:

NORTH-WEST - Pond Bank, Chapel Lane, Chapel Hill Fm.
CENTRAL - High Street, Towcester Road and Towns End
SOUTH-EAST - Ladyfield, 1938-9, 1950s and 1960s Builds
COUNTRYSIDE - Distributed Buildings - Parishwide

For the Central neighbourhood most of the houses are Victorian or of earlier vintage and the boundaries are conveniently aligned with much of the boundaries of Blisworth's Conservation Area.  The fourth neighbourhood includes all single houses and clusters of houses that are substantially encircled by fields.  This is a convenient way to insure that the entire parish is included with its large cluster (The Arm), small clusters (Station Road, Railway Cottages and Pynus Cottages), industrial groupings which include dwellings and offices (Northampton Road Complex, Blisworth Hill Farm, etc) and the large number of single dwellings inc. farm houses.  Our village's “Neighbourhood Plan”, which can be a version of our Village Design Statement (written originally in March 2011 having arisen from the actions on the Blisworth Community Plan, 2009 - 2011), shall have to be constructed so that it will do various things that will satisfy “an official examination” of the document.  This aspect is left out for the present – please suppose "the plan" is written and it has passed the examiner who has the satisfaction of knowing we are a "capable" group.  With it, we will have described and registered our neighbourhoods on the basis of our opinions about them.  Apparently, we need to be "rigorous" in our account.  We will probably say that almost any housing development, apart from in-filling, would spoil visual amenity or hamper traffic in the village.  However, with care there might be small pockets that may be developed with a benefit to the village given simultaneous improvement to the highways.  It's hoped that the idea is conveyed: all the agreed policy bits and pieces we feel are desirable can get folded into the definition of our neighbourhoods.

Aspects envisaged in going forward and using the neighbourhood plan will, at least, include the following:

1.  The Parish Council appears to be promised an early involvement when a new and fairly major development is to be proposed.  The council would be informed of its existence and its detailed description. The council then has 28 days in which to “determine” that neighbourhood in which the development is to be located.  Or they can decide not to determine the neighbourhood.  (Our language is rich, so goodness knows why the mandarins picked their buzzword determine instead of, let’s say, classify, inclose or confine).

2.  An operational code for the Parish Council may then be as follows:  If the neighbourhood is left un-determined then the SNC will manage the planning in the age-old way and we would decide this option if we basically approve the plan and feel that we can obtain enough adjustment in the details by processes akin to what we are familiar with.  If, however, we decide to determine then we will be made the planning authority on this occasion, for this neighbourhood.  One catchy phrase is "we will be in the driving seat" and the advantages of that will be that the Parish Council will have first hand dealings with any problems.  Being the planning authority may allow the Parish Council to co-opt a case officer from the SNC to help frame our actions.  This would be rather wonderful in principle. In any case there are four organisations available to give the Council some help.

From the Viewpoint of Villagers:   Many questions will arise in the next few months.  Let us be optimistic and hope that this is the first real opportunity that there has been for villagers to control planning - this is assuming that the "Localism Bill" succeeds through Parliament.  This document serves as a "heads-up" for villagers.  Be aware that the enthusiasm in this scheme, expressed by our Parish Council, will be governed by councillor's willingness and their availability to get their hands dirty and enter a sometimes technical and sometimes contentious arena.

That last sentiment takes us naturally to the next point.  Here is an extract from The Independent, Sunday 13th November 2011, in an article about another example of "Localism" in action:  One million state workers are to be transferred out of hospitals, colleges and job centres as part of David Cameron's "aggressive aspiration" to create John Lewis-mutual style public services. With little fanfare, services across the country are being quietly taken over by their own staff - state funded but run independently. The Prime Minister claims the number of services that adopt the scheme will be a key test of his Big Society vision. This is all just the mechanics under the car bonnet to make the car work better. (Of course, the motoring analogy means our politician is being 'frank' and hopes few will consider themselves competent to look under any bonnet, Ed.)  What has been created here is a new freedom, in which staff or a voluntary organisation (ed's. use of bold) may run a service.  These 'mutuals' put staff in the driving seat etc. etc.....

To what extent is a volunteer group like a Parish Council expected to run a professional service like Planning?  Enough to save significant costs in running a Planning Department perhaps.  Will this prove to be a real benefit?  We all know that village volunteers wander off to 'get a life' sooner or later - how does the, by then, slimmed down Planning Department cope after that?

Come along and join the public at the Parish Council meetings each month to listen to their deliberations, maybe input your ideas.

                                                                                                                                                                Tony Marsh  November 2011