Fortune Green and West Hampstead Neighbourhood Plan: a case study about developing a good working relationship with your LPA
The Fortune Green and West Hampstead Neighbourhood Area covers parts of two council wards in the London Borough of Camden, and is home to approximately 24,000 people. Situated on the boundary between inner and outer London, the area is well-connected, with good transport links making it a popular place to live with commuters. The Neighbourhood Area also includes an allocated growth area in the London Plan, where there will be a minimum of 800 new homes and 100 new jobs created over the period of the Plan.
Why a neighbourhood plan?
Discussions about neighbourhood planning first began in 2011. Local councillors highlighted the opportunities it presented and a group of local residents, concerned by the impact of proposed, large-scale development which they felt lacked community involvement, saw the potential to become more involved in shaping their area. This interest coincided with the production of the London Plan in 2011, which generated interest in planning and land-use issues.
So, while not a “Front Runner”, the area was one of the first, and certainly one of the first in London, to get involved in neighbourhood planning. You can read more about the early stages of what would become the Fortune Green and West Hampstead Neighbourhood Development Forum (designated May 2013) on the Forum’s website.
Developing a relationship with the LPA: early stages
Initially, group members were uncertain as to what neighbourhood planning could achieve and what they had to do. So it was very valuable at this stage (a time before the regulations were publicised, and when there were few other forums in London to share experiences with) to make contact with the LPA and benefit from their support. This included:
- Producing information about what neighbourhood planning was
- Setting up webpages covering key topics such as how to set up a Forum/Area
- Helping the group understand the neighbourhood planning process.
This early engagement and provision of timely information served as a reality check for some residents, who came to a better understanding of what would be involved in producing a neighbourhood plan, such as the requirements for consultation and engagement, and the need to define carefully the neighbourhood area.
Also at this stage the group established a main contact at Camden Council. While the named individual changed over time, due to staffing changes, there was always one person within the strategic planning team who acted as the main point of contact with the group.
Liaising with the LPA throughout the designation stage
In 2012 the Forum worked on establishing a workable structure and agreeing their constitution. They had an interim chair before the permanent chair was elected, and formed a committee. They then started on the aims and objectives of their plan.
Throughout 2012, the Forum also liaised with the LPA about designation. They had an idea about what their neighbourhood area should cover, but one local group raised concerns about a boundary issue which took some time to resolve, and the first designation application was rejected by the LPA, who felt that insufficient consultation had been done. These issues took time to resolve, but what helped was:
- Talking to the main LPA contact (see above) about what needed to be done and why
- Receiving clear pointers from the LPA about what extra engagement was needed, and why (for example, which community groups should be contacted)
- Having a shared understanding that as this was early days for neighbourhood planning, these were issues groups were likely to face and just needed to be worked through. Also, drawing boundaries in densely populated urban areas is always going to be more challenging than using the boundaries of an established parish council, for example.
Liaising with the LPA during plan production
Throughout 2012-2013, the Forum produced their plan. Rather than having sub-groups working on different sections of the plan, they worked on drafting the whole plan, and put all the draft versions on the website to encourage feedback and input from the community. Drafts were also sent to the Forum’s mailing list, and all Forum meetings, where the versions of the plan were discussed, were open to the public. The aim of this was to show not just how but why changes were made: for example, some residents wanted the plan to include a blanket ban on tall buildings, which was not viable.
Very early drafts were not shared with the LPA, but as soon as the Forum got to the stage of shaping policies they liaised with their LPA contact. From draft three onwards, all drafts were sent to the LPA for comment and input, with the aim of creating a continuous dialogue to shape and improve the plan. This ongoing dialogue is something the Forum would recommend other neighbourhood planning groups aim for.
Forum members were very keen to write the plan themselves, as they wanted it to remain a community-owned document. However they understood the importance of listening to the LPA, particularly on policy writing, which they consider the hardest part of plan writing. Policies must be robust and stand up to scrutiny, and as the LPA will be making decisions using the neighbourhood plan policies, they are well placed to test and review them. Again, this is something the Forum would strongly advise other groups to do.
The Forum would have welcomed input also from the GLA, as they were aware their plan had to be compliant with the London Plan, but this did not happen; rather, the London Plan was interpreted in the LPA’s policies and the LPA contact provided clarification where required.
Liaising with the LPA prior to examination
At the start of 2014 the plan went to pre-submission consultation; the Forum then revised it prior to submission to the LPA in September 2014. This was a time when the Forum worked closely with the LPA, and they note, with hindsight, that they underestimated how many changes would need to be made to get a final version in place. Feedback from the LPA was vital at this stage.
The examination included a hearing, and the plan passed examination in January 2015 (examiner’s report). It will now go to referendum and this is likely to take place over the spring or summer of 2015.
- Build up the relationship with your LPA throughout the process and aim for ongoing dialogue and discussion with them.
- Agree how you will manage the communication with the LPA. In WHNDF’s case, it was the chair who was the main contact from the forum and who liaised with the main contact at the LPA. Other Forum members could be brought in to attend meetings as required.
- Listen to the LPA’s advice, as they have the experience and expertise in planning, but keep engaging with your local community to make sure your plan reflects the needs of your neighbourhood area.
- Appreciate that LPA staff have other commitments and can’t be at your beck and call.
- Remember that you’ll need to develop a relationship towards the end of the process with the staff at the council who will be doing the referendum, as these will not be the planners you’ve been working with so far.
Many thanks to James Earl, Chair, West Hampstead Neighbourhood Development Forum, for his help with this case study. You can contact the Forum by email or follow them on Twitter. These case studies are produced by Planning Aid England as part of the Supporting Communities in Neighbourhood Planning programme, funded by the Department for Communities and Local Government and delivered by a consortium led by Locality.
Photo credits© All photos are copyright West Hampstead Neighbourhood Development Forum