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Smaller communities could have a greater say on housing developments in South and Vale

Small communities in the Vale of White Horse and South Oxfordshire will now have an opportunity for greater influence on how and where houses and other developments should be built in their area.

After the two district councils put together a successful joint bid for government grant funding of up to £45,000, the government has announced the districts will be part of a national pilot of a new, simpler approach to Neighbourhood Planning.

Neighbourhood Planning is a process where a community – usually led by the town or parish council – can develop a shared vision for their neighbourhood and influence development in their local area.

While many communities have already benefitted from developing their own Neighbourhood Plans – 41 have been adopted in the two districts combined – they are hard work to produce and can take a long time.

As part of the pilot, the two councils will now design and trial a new simpler form of Neighbourhood Planning, which should make it available to a much wider variety of communities.

Vale of White Horse and South Oxfordshire District councils will be inviting communities to take part in the trial very soon. Community groups taking part don’t have to be town or parish councils, which means “unparished” communities would be able to get involved.

Four communities will work to produce what the district councils are calling a “Local Placemaking Plan”. In these the local community can set out what matters to them, and their infrastructure priorities. The trial will test how a simpler form of neighbourhood planning could have real influence in planning decisions.

The two district councils are very well placed to deliver this pilot, having been at the forefront of Neighbourhood Planning since it was first introduced in 2011 – Thame and Woodcote in South Oxfordshire were among the first Neighbourhood Plans in the country to be adopted. The two district councils also already provide a gold standard support and advice service for communities developing Neighbourhood Plans.

Cllr Debby Hallett, Cabinet Member for Corporate Services and Transformation at the Vale of White Horse District Council, said: “We already go to significant lengths to support our communities who are developing Neighbourhood Plans, and we’re taking that further by helping to make the process available to even more of them. There is very often plenty of will and enthusiasm within smaller communities to take part in the process, just not enough people or money to make it a reality, and so we’re doing everything we can to break down those barriers.”

Cllr Anne-Marie Simpson, Cabinet Member for Planning at South Oxfordshire District Council, said: “We’re delighted so many of our communities have taken up neighbourhood planning, and now we want to give an opportunity for those which haven’t, for whatever reason, to try a simpler streamlined version. Smaller communities can be disproportionately affected by even a handful of new buildings, and so it feels wrong that they don’t currently have as much influence as their bigger neighbours have on what happens in their own villages. I’m very proud that we’re leading the field to find ways of helping them find a voice.”

You can view maps of the neighbourhood plans in South Oxfordshire and the Vale of White Horse.