The Localism Act became law in November 2011 and provides the basis for the devolution of decision-making on matters affecting communities and neighbourhoods to the local level. Perhaps the most significant elements of the Act in relation to Planning are the regulations which came into force in April 2012 granting powers to Town or Parish Councils, (or to neighbourhood forums in areas where these do not exist), to produce Neighbourhood Plans. Such Plans:
Communities can apply for a Community Right to Build - a type of Neighbourhood Development Order enabling development approved by the community to come forward without the need to apply for Planning Permission. This Right can only be sanctioned after testing by an independent person and a referendum. As yet, the Government has not announced information on its requirements for referenda although the production of Neighbourhood Plans is already underway in many areas.
In practice, one envisages co-operation between the parties preparing Neighbourhood Plans and the Local Planning Authorities but this may not always be the case. Importantly though, Neighbourhood Plans cannot undermine the Development Plan, for example, by cutting housing targets, but can add on additional growth or specific provisions and forms of development, and can influence detailed local land uses and development.
Clearly, where Neighbourhood Plans are being prepared for areas with inland waterways, such Plans may well be influential in relation to development affecting waterways as well as providing positive support for restoration, use and management. Ways need to be found to ensure effective participation in the Neighbourhood Plan-making process to ensure that waterway interests are both safeguarded and promoted.