Tuesday, 15 July 2014

The Penzance plan starts here, with myself on the board!

This is of course the neighbourhood plan for Penzance, more properly and in the words of a former Cornwall Council planner (Andy England) the process of 'planning for a plan' is well and truly in the offing. Last night at the town council I was elected onto the Penzance Neighbourhood Plan Board. Regular readers of the blog will now I have written on this subject before, back in October last year Should Penzance create a Neighbourhood Development Plan? I think it gives my initial views on the process and also some of the limitations I think it holds. For a more generic description try this from the DCLG.

Briefly a Neighbourhood Plan (NP) guides and informs planning decisions for the length of the plan (typically 20 years). Within the constraints of planning law (i.e. the National Planning Policy Framework) and the local plan (currently being devised by Cornwall Council). Unlike those policies that have already decided crucial matters like number of houses the NP will have the constraint and the advantage of being borne from the community. Although Penzance Town Council has started this process and will work with others it is not our plan, it is the communities plan. The whole process is punctuated by public consultations and then at the end a public referendum. There is a lot of talk about localism at the moment and giving local communities the say on key decisions, the Neighbourhood Plan is one of the few examples of this happening.

I think it would be very easy to underestimate the scale and importance of this task. Simple old fashioned public consultations won't cut it, listening only to consultants or solely to those that shout loudest could mean the plan will be doomed to failure at referendum, it is imperative the vast majority of the public are involved in the process. So it will be a great deal of work but will be better for it.

Policies outlined in Penzance's plan will become planning law. I'm sure any of us could look around the town (or indeed anywhere else) and see planning decisions that for better or worse have changed the fundamental nature of the place. For example, what if planners had never allowed the harbour to be filled in for a car park? what if your local park or green space had been built upon? It's easy to see planning policies as words on a piece of paper but the decisions taken in the plan will help shape the future of our community. I know many of you will be reading this well aware of planning policies you do and don't like, but I do hope there are others reading this now (and in the future of the process) that will think about how planning effects themselves and their neighbourhoods and what they'd like to see from it.

So what is the board? Well firstly it has been named the Penzance Neighbourhood Plan Board and its job is Governance and Management of the NP process. To be more exact:

"Establishing an appropriate governance and management structure - The Penzance Neighbourhood Plan Board (PNPB) and a Project Manager - is critical to the success of the NP. The PNPB will oversee the NP's development, dissemination and community consultation and ensure that the process complies with its statutory duties."

The first task of the PNPB will be to make an application to central government for grant funding for the first stage. From there it is imperative to create a communication and engagement strategy and start the long process of getting people involved in the decisions!

I don't have a great deal left to say at this point. This is a huge task and it will go on for a long time and I'm not even sure how long that will be. I've a lot to learn about a lot of things which really excites me. I'm really looking forward to the challenge and all that is left to say is a thank you to my fellow town councillors that showed faith in me and voted me on to the board. I hope I live up to the expectations.