The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) have asked all local authorities in England to send out a request to local Parish Councils and Community groups to participate in what they call Neighbourhood Planning Vanguards scheme. The concept for this scheme was introduced in the Localism Bill on the 13th Dec. Our esteemed leaders at Broadland District Council (BDC) decided to issue an invitation on the 17th Dec to local Parish Councils but only those who have completed a Parish Plan!
Now whilst the speed of this may seem like good forward planning we in SNUB take a different view. We believe that if this invitation was a genuine attempt to involve the community it should have gone through three internal BDC committees and Cabinet before the invitation was issued. We understand that it was discussed at the Place Shaping Committee on the 15th Dec but with only 4 working days between publication by DCLG and the letter issued by BDC, this was the only committee who saw this before publication.
Once again we see the secretive and inner cabal of Cabinet and senior officers over stepping the mark in terms of their delegated powers. Indeed the Overview and Scrutiny Committee (the council’s own internal audit function) expressed similar views at their meeting on the 4th Jan where elected members requested an extension to the time given to Parish Councils to respond. The minutes record the following:
“Members express concern that the deadline for responses from parish and town councils was unrealistic, as most only had monthly meetings and lacked the resources to respond so quickly. A Member also suggested that small communities were unlikely to be interested in taking part in such a costly exercise.”
The net result of this is that Rackheath Parish Council at their meeting on Wednesday 19th Jan had not seen the invitation, as they have not completed a Parish Plan and even if they had the self-imposed deadline issued by BDC was Friday 7th Jan. BDC then held a meeting for those interested on Wednesday 19th Jan the same night that Rackheath Parish Council had their meeting. Bear in mind however that DCLG do not require responses until 14th Feb.
We also believe that Salhouse Parish Council, who have submitted a Parish Plan, have not had the time to discuss this due to the timings of their meetings. So there we have it; the two Parishes directly affected by these development plans have not had the opportunity to respond either through de-selection by the inner cabal or by self-imposed and unrealistic time scales by BDC. Hardly fair or democratic.
This point is worth considering; BDC issue an invitation the week before Christmas knowing that all Parish Councils had already held their final meeting before the festive season. They provide 17 working days over the holiday period for a response from people who do this on a part time volunteer basis and then allow themselves, full time professional staff at BDC, 30 working days to respond to DCLG! Once again hardly fair or democratic.
As a consequence of this SNUB have approached DCLG direct to request that SNUB are considered as a suitable community group to develop their own Neighbourhood Planning Vanguards scheme thus by passing BDC. We would of course work closely with local Parish Councils however we see nothing in the guidance that prohibits groups like SNUB participating in their own right. The insistence on using Parish or Town Councils is the BDC interpretation as, we believe, a way of maintaining control of an area that they are losing control in ie local planning! There is £20,000 for each group that participates in this scheme and we are of the view that based on previous experiences we would achieve a much better return on this investment then the power hungry bureaucrats at BDC. We will wait and see what DCLG say.