Communities Week 2017: How to protect allotments with neighbourhood planning
Protect and grow your plots
Neighbourhood plans offer communities the power to both protect existing allotments and allocate new sites for future allotment development. Since 2012, communities across England have used this new planning power to guide the future development and conservation of their local area. Producing a neighbourhood plan puts in place planning policies and vision that has real weight with a statutory status.
So what is a neighbourhood plan?
A neighbourhood plan gives communities the ability to write their own planning documents. This means the people who know and love the area can decide on the type of development they want, where they want it. They can say where new homes, shops and offices should be built, what places should be redeveloped or conserved. Many groups are also using the neighbourhood planning process to allocate new allotment sites and protect existing allotment sites in their local communities.
Unlike community plans or parish plans, a neighbourhood plan is a legal planning document meaning it must be used by local councils when they are making decisions on planning applications.
As the neighbourhood plan has statutory weight, there are certain procedures it must follow:
- The neighbourhood plan area must be identified: If you don’t have a parish or town council in your local area to lead on this, you must set up a group called a neighbourhood forum.
- Local people must be involved in the process: This means asking the community about the issues that matter to them.
- Have robust evidence to back up the draft policies in your plan: Researching the available data of your area is key to supporting your new policies.
- Engage the community: Gather the views of the community on what they think of the plan, before it is submitted.
- Checked by an independent examiner: Before it goes to referendum, the plan must be checked by an independent examiner to ensure it meets the ‘basic conditions’ of a neighbourhood plan.
- Local referendum: The final step is that the plan goes to a local referendum. If the plan gets the successful ‘yes’ vote, then it can be brought ‘into force’ by the local authority.
Neighbourhood plans featuring allotments
Here are some examples of how neighbourhood plans have addressed allotments in their local communities.
Exeter St. James
Exeter St James were the first urban group to complete the neighbourhood planning process in February 2013. The area had a very limited allotment provision, but the community consultation discovered that the few allotment plots that were in existence on the railway embankment were highly valued by the community and that residents were very keen to increase the number of plots. The neighbourhood planning group addressed this community wish by introducing policies in their neighbourhood plan.
These policies included a provision that proposed development would not be allowed if it resulted in harm or loss of allotments, unless there was a replacement provision that was convenient for the existing plot holders, or that clear and significant social, economic and environmental community benefits could be derived from the proposal. They also stated that they intended to work on improving the use of the existing allotments.
Since the plan has come into force, the railway embankment allotments have been revamped and renamed the St James Vegetable Gardens. They have completed a new eco-friendly rainwater collection system and Sunday morning working parties have been working on maintenance tasks, clearing shared spaces and potential vacant plots.
Haywards Heath in West Sussex is experiencing a shortfall of allotments and an extensive waiting list for plots. The town is expected to grow significantly over the next 20 years, and new lots must be allocated to accommodate that growth. The town council has used their neighbourhood plan to identify a plot of land to the south east of the town as a suitable area for new allotments. This new site is also supported by a town strategy that includes a policy to support food production through these allotments.
Walton uses their neighbourhood plan to allocate their existing allotments as a ‘Local Green Space’ which means they are to be retained in their current use and protected from inappropriate development other than in very special circumstances. This Local Green Space designation is a way to protect green areas against inappropriate development (you can read more about neighbourhood plans and Local Green Space designation here).
Get started with help and support
Locality has a wealth of information and expert advice available on neighbourhood planning. Grants and support are also available for groups undertaking neighbourhood planning – helping your group with all aspects of the process.