Despite scepticism about the role of Neighbourhood Planning, the South Oxfordshire village of Woodcote has grasped the bull by its horns and is one of 126 233 communities short-listed to pilot the government’s Neighbourhood Planning agenda.
Neighbourhood Planning was introduced by the Localism Act, 2011 and provides local communities with the opportunity to shape development in their local area, either through their town or parish councils or neighbourhood forums. Woodcote is located in the Chilterns’ Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It is a popular place to live with good services and facilities. However, since the 1950s, its population has grown by 400% and much to villagers’ concern, the village is earmarked for further expansion.
How then can Neighbourhood Planning work for Woodcote? The first step that the parish council took was to create a steering group of 20 volunteers to manage production of the neighbourhood plan. The second step was to advertise for land and identify sites in and around Woodcote suitable for development over the next 15 years.
The draft plan will be scrutinised by an independent examiner to ensure it complies with local and national policies. A local referendum will follow and if more than 50% of voters support it, the plan will be adopted. Neighbourhood plans will have statutory force and future planning applications will be determined accordingly. The local community therefore decides what type of development is needed and where it goes. Woodcote’s message is clear: ‘Speak now or forever hold your peace.’
First published in the Pitmans Times 2012