On the back of my article in November in the Henley Standard, let me say that people should be justly proud of the Henley and Harpsden neighbourhood plan. I am equally proud that I was able to give Henley such an important power in the planning system.
It is all the more important now that SODC has "lost" its five year land supply figure – a measure of housing deliverability. Without it, there would be no protection for Henley. But as I have said from the very beginning, what I did not do was give Henley the power to decide everything about planning by itself. I gave it the right to share in the process of developing the planning system locally by producing policies to help shape the town.
Judgement in the High Court clearly shows Neighbourhood Plans still carry very significant amounts of weight in the planning system even where the district council has lost its five year land supply. This means that a Neighbourhood Plan would have had the strongest of influences in helping to decide on planning applications as it did in the case of Thames Farm, near Henley.
More recently, I helped change the regulations to ensure that where a District Council loses its five year land supply, a community with a Neighbourhood Plan which allocates sites for development will only have to operate under a three year land supply figure rather than five. SODC has a three year land supply and the Neighbourhood Plan would therefore now carry full weight.
The fact is that if Henley didn't have a Neighbourhood Plan, local people would have precious little ability to have any input into local planning. The idea that Neighbourhood Plans are worthless in these circumstances is incorrect. It is also wrong to say that the Neighbourhood Plan is worthless because of the attitude of SODC to the Plan. Like Woodcote, rather than simply complain about SODC, the Henley team needs to be involved negotiating and discussing applications with SODC. It is about sharing. I understand that that is precisely what the Henley team is doing. In Henley itself recent Care Homes applications were not so far removed from the Neighbourhood Plan to lead to refusal. So there's a need for a pragmatic approach to Neighbourhood Plans.
I was pleased to see Henley represented at a meeting I recently called with SODC and parish councils undertaking these Plans. Much was explained particularly how wrong it was to play politics with such Plans.
A Neighbourhood Plan has legal status based on its policies not on the words which surround them. Good strong policies for the town. It is this Government that is thinking of the "ordinary people" rather than the developer by giving them this power. Just ask yourself, would you really prefer the old system of a man in Whitehall deciding these things for you? I know I would not.