Where it all begins
Crucial decisions about areas of new housing are made long, usually years, before a brick is laid and if we wish to influence the sort of communities we will get it is important to be involved as early as possible.
All local authority areas (District/Borough Councils or Unitary Authorities) will have a Local Plan. A Local Plan will: “set out how much land we need for new homes and jobs and identify the locations for where new development should take place up to the year 2031. It will also include a number of policies covering design of development, affordable housing, the historic environment, infrastructure and the Green Belt.” (Extract from Wycombe District Council web site relating to their new Local Plan) The timescale will be up to 20 years. Many authorities are currently producing new plans and this process takes 2-3 years and sometimes longer, with numerous public events and consultation periods. If we wish to know what is going to happen and to influence decisions it is important to take a full part in this process. For more details about possible Church involvement see (http://www.chelmsford.anglican.org/uploads/Local_Plan_Process_and_Community_Consultation%281%29.pdf)
A Neighbourhood Plan is a community-led framework for guiding the future development, regeneration and conservation of a neighbourhood. It may deal with a wide range of social, economic and environmental issues (such as housing, employment, heritage and transport) or it may focus on one or two issues only. This is for those producing the plan to decide.
A Neighbourhood Plan will be part of the statutory development plan for the area and it must conform to the Local Plan of the District/Borough (e.g. in the number of houses planned), but can refine the proposals to suit the local needs. This statutory status gives Neighbourhood Plans far more weight than some other local documents, such as parish plans, community plans and village design statements. Again there are procedures to follow and it is important to get involved. There is a lot of useful information about neighbourhood planning on the Locality.org.uk website (http://locality.org.uk/projects/building-community/)
At any time developers may come forward with plans for new developments. Often they will consult with local communities before submitting plans to the local authority. It is important to look out for such events, attend and try to build relationships with developers if you want to influence the proposals. Churches and their leaders are in a good position because they are an important part of the existing community and can play a crucial role in developing new communities and building links between old and new.
Once a formal planning application has been made there will be further opportunities to comment and make suggestions. In particular it is important to ask about the community facilities that will be provided (education, health, transport, community buildings, environmental and sport) and to start to think about how a Christian presence could be established. It is important to find out how monies paid by the developer to the Council will be used (the phrases “section 106 agreement” or CIL “Community Infrastructure Levy” will be used to describe this payment). People may also want to ask about the provision of affordable housing in a proposed development to help meet local housing need.
As the timescales can be long it is important to get people involved who are likely to have a long term commitment to the area but who also have a heart for developing community and for Christian witness.