In April this year new neighbourhood planning powers contained within the 2011 Localism Act come into effect. Since then, local communities across the country have quickly latched on to the opportunities they present. Redwood has gained valuable early expertise helping to deliver neighbourhood planning and dealing with its consequences for applicants, and we have shared our insights with a range of developers, planners and landowners throughout the country.

Over recent months we have worked closely with two potential Neighbourhood Areas to help establish two corresponding Neighbourhood Forums. Both neighbourhoods are in sensitive central London locations with many nationally significant historic and architectural assets. Redwood’s role has therefore presented some fascinating challenges. These have included liaising with local stakeholders about the aims and potential benefits of the forums, and then mobilising supporters to secure the appropriate Neighbourhood Area designations. We are working to secure balanced memberships, reflecting potentially divergent residential, business and other local interests, and written draft constitutions for both. Participants have embraced neighbourhood planning enthusiastically and both neighbourhoods are now well-placed to prepare Neighbourhood Development Plans.

In contrast, we have also seen how some local communities have sought to use the changes to promote anti-development agendas. We have recently worked to help bring forward a major strategic site in the north of England, against a background of apparent parish council support for a Neighbourhood Development Plan fundamentally at odds with emerging pro-growth borough policy. This has noticeably shifted the local political dynamic, with the parish council gaining much greater influence, requiring careful adjustment of the approach to pre-application consultation.

Our experience exemplifies the inherent tension between the government’s pro-growth agenda and its commitment to localism. Whether the new powers can represent the pro-growth milestone the government hopes, rather than yet another hurdle for applicants to negotiate – a mill stone rather than a milestone – will become clearer over coming months (although the raft of initiatives announced recently by the Coalition suggests much more needs to be done). What is very clear however is the overwhelming importance of early and meaningful political, community and media engagement, whether when positively promoting neighbourhood plans to shape sustainable development, as the legislation intends, or bringing forward new development where local NIMBYs seek to use the new powers to stall it. These new powers can give developers, landowners or other promoters opportunities to work really closely with the communities they are investing in to get a mutually beneficial result. Redwood has unrivalled knowledge of how this can work.