Putting Parish Plans in Their Place: Relationships between Community-Based Initiatives and Development Planning in English Villages

Article excerpt

Two approaches to village planning have evolved over the past 50 years or so-the traditional land use approach of local planning authorities and, recently, more broadly based planning initiatives undertaken by communities themselves. The paper traces the evolution of these two approaches, pointing to the confusion between them that exists already and the potential conflict that might arise over land use and development decisions. Specifically, findings from research into the connections between Parish Plans and the planning system are reported. The current reform of the planning system presents an opportunity to develop a convergent approach to village planning that could reconcile the two different approaches. To this end a procedural framework is proposed that would relate Parish Plans to both Local Development Frameworks and Community Strategies and would encourage the planning system to be more responsive to the needs and aspirations of local communities within the context of wider strategic planning imperatives.

The potential for confusion

For the past 50 years village planning in England has been undertaken rather patchily by local planning authorities. Village plans, where they have been prepared, have been instruments of physical planning restricted essentially to the use and development of land. More recently the 1990s saw the emergence of a large number of community led and more broadly based planning initiatives in villages. These included village appraisals, village design statements, village action plans, parish maps, 'planning for real' exercises and many others. At the turn of the century there were calls for the development of 'holistic' village plans prepared by the local community (TCPA, 1999; LGA, 1999; Countryside Agency, 2000; DETR and MAFF, 2000; Murray and Greer, 2001; Moseley, 2002; Owen, 2002). Alongside the growth of these community led initiatives has been the resurgence of the so-called 'plan led' statutory planning system initiated in the 1991 Planning and Compensation Act and continued in subsequent government policies, most recently in the 2003 Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill.1

The publication of the 2000 Rural White Paper Our Countryside: The Future (DETR and MAFF, 2000) and the 2001 Planning Green Paper Planning: Delivering a Fundamental Change (DTLR, 2001) highlighted a tension between two seemingly very different approaches to village planning. First, the 2000 Rural White Paper proposed Parish Plans, which would be prepared by parish councils covering a wide range of issues of concern to the local community well beyond the scope of the planning system but including planning matters. Second, the 2001 Planning Green Paper proposed 'action plans' for villages, which would be prepared by local planning authorities and confined to matters that lie entirely within the remit of the planning system. The tension epitomised by these two proposed instruments is between, on the one hand, the emerging recognition of a need for a community-based approach to village planning encompassing a much wider range of issues than land use and, on the other, established practice whereby local planning authorities themselves prepare proposals for the use and development of land in villages as part of the statutory planning system.

The 2002 Planning Policy Statement Sustainable Communities: Delivering Through Planning (ODPM, 2002a), issued in response to consultation over the 2001 Planning Green Paper and paving the way for the 2003 Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill, moderates the initial proposal to introduce action plans. It proposes instead to introduce 'Area Action Plans'. These would be development plan documents, but their focus would 'move from a traditional land use approach to a more spatial approach' (ODPM, 2002b, 3). Additionally, less formal supplementary planning guidance would continue to be a material consideration in deciding planning applications.2 With the further provision that all such documents should show evidence of community involvement, this emerging flexibility could help to reduce, or even resolve, some of the tensions between the two different approaches to village planning, the community led holistic approach and the local planning authority led land use approach, by offering an effective role within the planning system to community initiatives. …


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