Planning power to the people

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MORPETH residents could soon get the chance to have a bigger say on local planning policies.

The town council has applied to be a pilot for the Government’s neighbourhood planning programme.

The Localism Act, which received Royal Assent last week, introduced new rights and powers to allow communities to shape new development by coming together to prepare neighbourhood plans.

Local authorities can lead the programme for their area and those that take it on will join residents, businesses and landowners to produce policies for development and use of land.

And the new regulations allow this group to permit projects that they want to see built – in full or in outline – without the need for planning applications.

These are called ‘neighbourhood development orders’.

At a meeting of Morpeth Town Council’s Planning and Transport Committee, Coun David Parker said: “Neighbourhood planning will give us the opportunity, in due course, to engage people across the town to influence local planning policies.

“Instead of being dictated to by the Government and even county councillors from a distance, Morpeth residents will have a real say in how they will be structured.

“I’m not saying everything about this I entirely agree with, but it doesn’t dot all the ‘i’s and cross the ‘t’s deliberately to give local people the chance to shape things themselves.”

Coun Mark Horton welcomed the opportunity for communities to have a larger voice about planning, but he did raise concerns about the Government’s programme.

“Generally, landowners tend to live away from the area and they are not always local,” he said.

“Both they and local businesses will have their own interests when they come to the table.”

In response, Coun Parker said that under this scheme, other stakeholders and developers would have to take account of the town council’s and residents’ views if they want certain projects to get the go ahead.

If Morpeth is successful in becoming a pilot area, it will receive officer support from Northumberland County Council to establish neighbourhood development plans and orders.

They will not take effect unless there is a majority of support in a referendum of the town and the documents will need to be checked by an independent qualified person.

They must also have regard to national planning policies and conform with the county’s development framework.