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We had hoped that the changes in planning policy announced earlier this year would have had time by now to bed in, and that we would be able to assess their impacts, both good and bad.

Spare a thought for Kingston Bagpuize with Southmoor which has been overwhelmed with planning applications to build more than 300 new homes. Villagers say they simply don't have the infrastructure to cope with such a huge increase in population.

We have written to the Secretary of State, Eric Pickles, to ask him to rethink a decision to build a retirement village and care home near Wallingford which was approved by South Oxfordshire District Council’s (SODC) Planning Committee last week.

Hot on the heels of the application to erect a wind turbine at Henton we are now faced with an even bigger single turbine proposed at Ford, just over the Oxfordshire border in Buckinghamshire. And we don't want that one either!

Henton, near Chinnor in South Oxfordshire could be the site of a 90 foot high wind turbine if developers have their way. They have submitted a planning application to erect the structure at Rowan Farm, Henton.

Volunteers litterpick on Grenoble Road, Oxford, then enjoy a guided walk along Oxfordshire’s Roman Way

2 October 2012

Oxford City Council needs to respect the wishes of local residents and protect both allotments and the green space at East Minchery Farm.

Monday, 01 October 2012 10:53

Neighbourhood plans

Written by Local Group Web Manager: Jane Tomlinson

The Localism Act, which came into force in November 2011, introduced provisions for neighbourhood planning. But what’s it all about and what does it mean for communities in Oxfordshire?

There are three main elements to neighbourhood planning:

1 Neighbourhood Development Plans – these are very localised versions of Local Plans and will include polices on the development and use of land.
2 Neighbourhood Development Orders (NDOs) – these can grant planning permission for a certain type of development, in a certain area. The permission can be unconditional or subject to approval by the relevant planning authority, which in this case could be the parish council.
3 Community Right to Build Orders – these are a special type of NDO that can be prepared by a community organisation. They will grant planning permission for a specified development in relation to a specified site.

What is a 'neighbourhood' and who is responsible for neighbourhood planning?

Neighbourhood plans can only be prepared by the relevant town or parish council or, where neither of these exists, a ‘neighbourhood forum’ designated by the local planning authority. Once a plan is drawn up, it must be submitted to the local planning authority to ensure it complies with regulations. It is then put forward for Independent Examination by the Planning Inspectorate. Finally, the plans must be approved by more than 50% of those voting in a local referendum. Presuming it gets through all these stages, the local authority must adopt it as part of the local development plan.

Who pays?

The local planning authority must pay for the Independent Examination, the referendum and any administration associated with processing the plan.
However, the costs of developing the plan itself have to be met by the parish or town council, or neighbourhood forum.

The opportunities & challenges

Theoretically, this puts decision-making back into the hands of local people. Neighbourhood plans could bring communities together around a positive vision for their area and a clear plan for sustainable development. If it works as the Government hopes, these plans will feed strongly into Local Plans.
But things are never as simple as they seem!

Firstly, neighbourhood plans will have to conform with the strategic elements of the Local Plan, including housing and economic development requirements. In turn, Local Plans have to be in conformity with the National Planning Policy Framework So, it seems it will be OK for local communities to say ‘yes’ to development, but ‘no’ is still not a valid response.

Secondly, neighbourhood planning could cost local communities a great deal, both in terms of time and money, with figures of anywhere between £17,000 and £70,000 being thrown around. Advice and support from external consultants can quickly push costs up.

So, while preparing these plans might prove a useful exercise, expectations must be realistic about the work involved and the degree to which communities can set their own agenda.

Local planning authorities will have an important role to play in this as they will need to support communities through the process. However, with scarce resources, it is not clear how planning departments will cope with any significant influx of plans, especially when their priority may be on getting Core Strategies in place within the 12 month deadline set by the National Planning Policy Framework.

What’s happening in Oxfordshire in 2012

To encourage take up of neighbourhood plans, the Government has identified a number of Front Runners to receive grant funding of £20,000. In Oxfordshire these are: Banbury, Chipping Norton, Faringdon, Thame, Woodcote and Wroxton.

Geoff Botting, Vice- Chair, Woodcote Parish Council says: "My advice for communities without planners on tap is to organise the project, to build expertise and evidence, and include the community from Day One."

Hilary Sherman, Deputy Town Clerk of Faringdon Town Council says: "Early on we took the view that the plan should be driven by the townspeople as a whole rather than merely ‘consulting’ with them. This has been remarkably successful."

Astrid Harvey, who is working to support the Chipping Norton Neighbourhood Plan, says: “Building momentum and sustaining enthusiasm in the town for the Neighbourhood Plan is challenging. We are very grateful to the 400 households who completed a residents' questionnaire, and to those who attended our workshops and focus groups. What they told us is helping to build a clear picture of the sort of town we need to plan for."

Monday, 01 October 2012 10:31

Roadside clutter

Written by Local Group Web Manager: Jane Tomlinson

Road signs provide essential information for road users and promote road safety. But increasingly there are too many signs. Some are officially sanctioned, but many more are unofficial advertising. Each sign is no doubt introduced with the best of intentions, but such clutter can create confusion, distract motorists and deface the rural landscape.

Artificial gates, flashing illuminated signs, coloured road surfaces, rumble strips, speed humps, chicanes of planters: when used together, they disfigure villages and roadsides and they’re expensive to install and maintain. A balance is needed. Essential signs should of course be maintained but they need to be sensitive to the character of the surrounding countryside.

A particularly ugly recent phenomenon is the growing number of advertising hoardings in fields by the roadside, and old vans emblazoned with advertising which park more or less permanently in laybys.  To report an illegally parked advertising van to the authorities you need to have observed it twice during the day perhaps on your way to work or the shops and on the way back. Take photos of it to prove it hasn’t moved. The authorities then have enough information to contact the advertiser and get it removed.

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