Leeds: a case study about a local authority’s role in neighbourhood planning

Background

Leeds_workshopCurrently about 40 areas in Leeds are working on neighbourhood plans. Leeds has both parish councils and neighbourhood planning forums. Initially there was high interest from parished areas in neighbourhood planning and it’s taken longer for the inner urban areas to establish forums and get going. However good progress is being made and eventually it’s likely that there will be a 60/40 split between parish and forum-led activity.

How Leeds City Council supports neighbourhood planning groups

No new staff have been taken on but there’s been a small restructure to enable neighbourhood planning support to be provided. The council now has a full time officer managing overall neighbourhood planning activity, plus a number of staff who have assisting with neighbourhood planning as part of their role. Leeds has also produced guidance (pdf) to help people understand the process.

The team has divided Leeds into ‘wedges’ with an officer attached to each. That officer then becomes the main contact for all neighbourhood planning groups in their area. The support provided can be more than technical planning support and can include assistance with consultation and engagement, project delivery and capacity building for more deprived communities.

The council provides varying levels of support dependent on local needs and the level of funding and support received from elsewhere. Resource planning can be a challenge but as areas are at different stages in the process it is not a particular problem.

Leeds_flyer_webDesignating neighbourhood areas

Submitting applications for neighbourhood areas and forums

A key piece of advice from Leeds is to discuss your application with the council before submitting it. In areas without a parish or town council it’s particularly important that the local community agrees the proposed boundary before the application is made: if they can’t agree there may be delays until the issue is resolved.

However it’s not always straightforward in a parished area, as it’s important that the proposed neighbourhood area makes sense in planning terms. For example, in Leeds two parish councils submitted neighbourhood area applications according to their existing parish council boundaries. But those boundaries were drawn up before the M1 was built, and it now cuts through the south half of the parish, forming a natural boundary in planning terms. The council refused the initial application, which had been submitted without any discussion with officers, and worked with the parish councils to agree a new boundary area which was then designated.

How decisions are made

In Leeds, decisions on designating neighbourhood areas and forums are “delegated decisions” – this means that they’re made by the council’s Executive Member for Planning without the need for them to go to a committee or panel. This decision was made early on, in 2012, in a report for and discussion with the council’s Executive Board about the processes and protocols of neighbourhood planning. As the area committees only meet every two to three months, it was felt this would be a much quicker process. Ward councillors are consulted as are the chairs of area committee and the Executive Officer.

Promoting neighbourhood planning

The city council has used existing mechanisms to promote neighbourhood planning and to manage expectations. For example, when neighbourhood planning was still relatively new, officers did a number of presentations at the annual parish and town council seminars. This enabled them to reach out to several areas at once. They also did similar presentations for local authority councillors, covering their role in neighbourhood planning. Neighbourhood planning has been promoted for inner city communities and this has also assisted the Council in delivering other corporate objectives.

Leeds_conference_1_webNeighbourhood Planning Steering Group

The Leeds Neighbourhood Planning Steering Group meets every two to three months and involves most Council directorates as well as Planning Aid England, Voluntary Action Leeds and others.

The Steering Group is chaired by the chief planning officer and organised by the council, but all members can input into the agendas and discussions. The steering group approved neighbourhood planning agreement, which sets out the roles and responsibilities on the part of the local planning authority and the neighbourhood planning groups. The result is a document which feels much more like a partnership document than something simply produced by the council.

Top tips

  • Before you start thinking about areas and boundaries, make sure you understand what a neighbourhood plan can/can’t do. In Leeds some issues that appeared to be boundary disagreements actually came from a misunderstanding of the purpose of neighbourhood planning.
  • Before you apply for any funding, think about the skills you have in your group and what you can do yourselves or get for free. Then apply for the funding you really need. This will make for a stronger application and helps build skills such as budget planning and management.
  • Be clear about what you want to achieve from a neighbourhood plan and test your ideas out first.

Find out more

Guidance for local communities (pdf) and others who are interested in neighbourhood planning in Leeds. It covers:

  • introduction to neighbourhood plans and neighbourhood planning;
  • the steps communities should follow when they are preparing a neighbourhood plan;
  • the role of the Council;
  • support and assistance available.

Many thanks to Ian Mackay, Team Leader, Leeds City Council for his help with this case study.

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 Leeds City Council