Neighbourhood Planning – Daft Legislation?

It has been hugely encouraging to follow the contributions of many sensible, thoughtful and experienced members of the Lords as they diligently attempt to undertake their role as a revising chamber (for what one of them referred to as ‘daft legislation’ – or was that a misheard quote?).

However it has been fundamentally depressing to watch the process fail through lack of time and lack of a competent response from ministers. One of my friends knows Joan Hanham well and speaks highly of her. I can only assume she is being badly briefed.

One interesting point was the reference to the Open Public Services White Paper. This interesting document references Neighbourhood Forums and makes the sensible suggestion, debated here previously, that they could develop into democratically accountable neighbourhood councils with a wider range of activities than just neighbourhood planning. It was a shame the minister didn’t appear to have read it. Another massive right hand, left hand moment for the Government.

One of the key points being debated is the idea of business neighbourhoods. This seems to have led to a consensus that a Westfield shopping centre would be a business neighbourhood. Putting aside the scary prospect of giving Westfield planning powers this raises some fascinating thoughts. Non domestic rate payers, in this case mainly retailers, look likely to be given one vote per hereditament. There must be some prospect of Westfield seeking to divide the landlords areas into multiple hereditaments in order to get more votes and the role of the District Valuer in this becomes interesting. Rating law was never designed for this prospect.

In reality the retailers will be the ones with the votes. Will this give Westfield’s tenants a greater level of bargaining power with their landlord. Votes in return for rent reductions perhaps?

Jo Valentine made an immensely sensible plea, that if we were going to have two referenda (one for business and one for residents – which by the way it looks as if Government is going to have to specifically fund local authorities to carry out – the costs spiral by the day), then at least lets have them everywhere.

The idea that the country is going to be carved up by local authorities into tightly delineated business areas that exclude residents and that will do their own planning ignoring their residential neighbours is how this idea seems to be going. Tesco Plans – you heard it here first. Its not too late though to scrap this barmy idea and just have one kind of neighbourhood where all the interests collaborate to produce a sensible plan.

It was clear from the debate that the intelligent observations in the Lords were going to be addressed by Greg Clark over the summer which helpfully has intervened to give Government the opportunity for an unadvertised ‘Pause’ to ‘Listen’ (sound familiar?). I am still an optimist and believe that there is a really sensible piece of legislation to be discovered in the murky depths of the Hansard record but Greg will have his work cut out to give it shape before the end of the holidays and will need a lot of sensible help and a deal less lobbying from vested interests.

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