THE BLOG
08/10/2015 08:54 BST | Updated 08/10/2016 06:12 BST

Power to You: Neighbourhood Planning Gives Communities Control of Development in Their Local Areas

Localism hands power to people. Decades of decisions being taken at a central level and then imposed on communities have been turned on their heads in recent years and people are now reaping the benefits.

In the four years since Neighbourhood Planning was first introduced, we've seen democracy in action across the country as hundreds of communities have stepped up to have a say on how their local area develops.

This week we've reached an important milestone as we celebrate the 100th successful referendum; people in 100 areas across England have turned out at their local polling station to vote to make their Neighbourhood Plan part of statutory planning policy.

But it's about more than voting for policies on a piece of paper; it's about having a voice on important issues that shape your neighbourhood.

People care deeply about where they live and want to be able to influence what kind of development happens on their doorstep. Whether that's ensuring there's enough affordable housing for their children in the future, protecting green spaces or safeguarding their neighbourhood's heritage, they get to say what's important to them and, more importantly, they get to be listened to.

Neighbourhood Planning puts power back into the hands of people, instead of elected representatives, and gives them collective clout to really shape where they live for the benefit of the people who live there.

More than 8 million people in 1,600 neighbourhoods across England now live in designated Neighbourhood Planning areas, countless people have been engaged in consultations and nearly a quarter-of-a-million votes have been cast in Neighbourhood Planning referendums. Turnout in referendums is consistently higher than that of local elections - in some areas more people voted than turned out in the general election - and, on average, 88% of people vote in favour of adopting their Neighbourhood Plan.

This just goes to show how much people care about their own neighbourhoods. They care about preserving its character, heritage and green spaces but they also care that there is enough affordable housing for their children and grandchildren, that their high streets remain thriving and that transport and infrastructure meet their needs.

In the past communities have often been seen as anti-development - NIMBYs dead set against any building happening in their backyard - but through the Neighbourhood Planning process we've learnt that people are only opposed to having development forced upon them. Once you put communities in the driving seat and give them control over what kind of development should happen where, you find people embracing it.

We often find Neighbourhood Planning areas allocating more housing than the Local Authority and Neighbourhood Plans are also able to dictate the kind of housing that is appropriate for the area so we're seeing more two-bed starter homes for rather than large executive houses.

We are also seeing a positive ripple effect from the Neighbourhood Planning process. The forums that are set up give the community a combined and formal voice which allows them a seat at the table with Local Authorities when discussing other issues like health and education.

We know there are some areas where people feel they have no control about what happens in their neighbourhood, but as Neighbourhood Planning gathers pace there are more and more people coming together now to shape where they live. By this time in two years we hope to be celebrating the 2,000th successful referendum.

Every neighbourhood is unique and their individual characteristics are recognised by local people and celebrated in the hundreds of Neighbourhood Plans currently being formulated across England.

Neighbourhood Planning gives real power to real people, giving them a seat at the decision-making table and enabling them to determine the future of their area. It allows local residents to set their own planning policies that reflect their priorities, deliver tangible local benefits and carry real weight in planning decisions.

People don't want decisions imposed on them. They know their neighbourhoods and they know what's best for them and it's brilliant to see so many communities taking up their right to make important decisions that shape where they live. Long may it continue.