Neighbourhood Plans are a feature of the 2011 Localism Act, and are meant to be an opportunity for Communities to truly participate from Bottom-Up as it were in determining the form of future development of their Localities.
In Littlehampton, the Town Council took the lead, but has relied heavily on guidance and close participation by the District Council. While a few Community Groups participated in the very early consultation stages, most of the Littlehampton Community was slow to take an interest, but once the Leisure Strategy hit the air-conditioning apparatus many more people became involved, firstly by making it clear just how much the community wanted to save the Assets that are under threat, and then by supporting the Town Council and in many cases by contributing to the public consultation on the first draft of the Neighbourhood Plan.
When the pre-submission draft was published recently, the Community was very disappointed to see that, instead of taking account of Community Views as was promised in the preambles, the new draft seemed to have regressed, and the Community View had little or no presence in the new proposals.
The Localism Act is clear - the Neighbourhood Plan should be a Community proposal, and Local Government should facilitate the process.
No doubt Town and District do believe they know the Community Feeling - except when any body does express an opinion, the body is dismissed as a 'Vocal Minority'. The various Community groups that came together about the Leisure Startegy feel they have only just started to contact all the groups and interests in the town and district, and sense that they are not just a Minority Voice, but that there is consensus that the Neighbourhood Plan is not the result of meaningful engagement with the Community, but is led by the Councils, which is not the intention, or requirement, of the Act.
In order to make the Community's View Clear, and to help coalesce all the diverse community interests, a Community Charter is being prepared, and will be discussed at the Next Public Community Meeting to be held at the Millennium Chamber of the Manor House, Church Street, Littlehampton at 6.00pm on Friday 28th June.
It is hoped many community groups, including those who are not just interested in the Leidsure Stategy issues which have dominated recent discusions, will be represented and report back to their groups and neighbourhoods. Several Parishes are in the process of developing Neighbourhood Plans, and this is an opportunity for all to think about ways to embrace the possibilities of Localism.
Please try to come, and please read the Charter documents.
The first proposal for the Community Charter can be read by following this link (click here)