What Next for the NP?

Last updated: 5th February 2017


WHAT NEXT FOR THE NEIGHBOURHOOD PLAN?

 

The failure of the Judge to uphold the Forum’s view, that Exeter City Council had frustrated the intentions of the Localism Act 2011 and the Exeter St James Neighbourhood Plan by granting planning consent to build yet more student accommodation as part of the proposed Football Club development, came as a profound disappointment. The judgement indicates that the University’s planned expansion and accompanying need for student accommodation are material grounds for overriding the Neighbourhood Plan (click here to see the full judgement).


The much vaunted promise that localism would deliver decision-making powers into the hands of local communities via democratically formulated Neighbourhood Plans has proved hollow. Our Neighbourhood Plan, a front-runner promoted by Ministers as an example to others, was overwhelmingly endorsed by referendum and adopted as part of the statutory planning process in 2013. The culmination of residents’ enthusiasm and hard work over a two year period, its aim was to deliver the long term goal of a balanced and vibrant neighbourhood in the face of ever-increasing student numbers. Central to the Plan is the concept of community balance: the desire of permanent residents to have a diverse and sustainable population which includes people at all stages of their lives and which is not dominated by a single group of the population. The Football Club development will increase the current student population to an estimated 57% in direct conflict with both NP Policy SD1 and the aspirations of local residents.


A further blow was that our application for a Protective Costs Order was also turned down on the grounds that the matters raised were not of national importance. This decision is difficult to understand as we argued that the issue of weight given to Neighbourhood Plans in the planning process was indeed one of national significance and of relevance to neighbourhood planning across the country. Although made liable for Exeter City Council’s costs, we were deemed not responsible for those of the developer or the Football Club and our own costs were minimal thanks to the pro bono advice received from barrister Gavin Collett of Magdalen Chambers, Exeter. Consequently we are now faced with a bill for £4,000 and as a community organisation without assets we would be grateful for any donations from members and other interested parties to assist us in meeting these costs.

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In light of this judgement we are urgently seeking a meeting with the Minister for Housing and Planning at the Department for Communities and Local Government in order to question why when put to the test our Neighbourhood Plan delivered neither residents’ wishes nor what Government promised. We will press for parliamentary commitment to localism so that Neighbourhood Plans really do have teeth and that their policies carry significant legal weight.


In the meantime despite this undeniable setback the Forum will continue through its various working groups and panels to strive to make St James a better place in which to live and work. We remain committed to the Neighbourhood Plan and will continue to endeavour to ensure that its policies are not readily set aside.

 

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