The CPRE has published an excellent report done for CPRE Gloucestshire by BDOR. It provides an excellent overview of the many types of existing local initiatives such as Parish Plans, Village design statements etc. Some edited highlights from its conclusions.
In terms of emerging approaches to localism there were varied levels of awareness from those (from all sides) who were clearly well up to speed and others who knew little. In general there was uncertainty (occasionally frustration, even anger) for a number of reasons. …The most significant of these, one that has clearly reduced community confidence in the [Localism] Bill, is the apparent shift from what was taken as a pre-election ‘promise’ (in Open Source Planning) that local people would be able to prepare their own plans to a requirement that community-led plans must be ‘in general conformity’ with plans at higher levels….
There were some aspects of what is proposed that most people regarded as unworkable and/or inappropriate. These included the definition of neighbourhoods in urban areas, the development of appropriate ‘Forums’ in urban areas (allied to cautions about the ability of PCs/TCs to manage processes properly), the likelihood of liberating enough resources (community or professional) to advance NDPs in particular and the proposed use of referenda (especially if areas of coverage are expanded beyond the community or neighbourhood preparing a plan). No solutions were offered for these and it was felt by many that their imposition could damage existing relationships and structures.
There were also several areas of uncertainty, for example about what actual policies could be included in a NDP, how to deal with non spatial issues that have for so long been the core of community-led planning, the procedures for and value given to thorough community engagement at a local level and controls over manipulation of procedures funded by a business or developer. Solutions ought to be available for these but are not yet known. Once again, if not addressed properly, it was felt that these too could damage existing practice.
This all led some to query whether the proposed approaches outlined in the Localism Bill would add anything significant to what is available already, suggesting instead that better use of the many approaches or methods available now could deliver aspects of the Bill’s ambition better than the new repertoire of Neighbourhood Development Plans and so forth. Finally, these concerns raised questions for some about whether all the time and resources being invested in the Localism Bill were proportionate to what many consider to be the minor benefits that might emerge.
The list was not, however, totally negative. Many people valued the fact that, if the Bill proceeds, local communities would – for the first time – have a full legal right to have their voice heard in the shaping of policy for their areas. Some considered that this extra right could help to revitalise moribund Parish or Town Councils and trigger more structured community organisation in urban areas. There was a hope (we can say it no more strongly) that the general shifts would lead to more genuine forms of community involvement in plan-making and pre-application engagement. There was also cautious support for the idea of a Community Right to Build.
As ever formalisation of good practice by national government can often crush it.