When will the plan be ready? is a question I get asked from time to time and it is a very difficult one to answer. I wish I could give a precise date but a number of influences are outside the Forum’s control. These include changes in Government policies, both planning policies and policies relating to Neighbourhood Forums in general. One such planning policy relates to the conversion of office space into residential space. Provided there is no change in overall floor space planning permission is no longer needed for this type of a conversion. Clearly such a policy change can have a significant impact upon a business area such as the Broadway. We have therefore had to review a number of our policies, especially those relating to the economic vitality of the village centre, to ensure they do not conflict with this change.
More recently, in an attempt to make the Neighbourhood Planning process more streamlined, the Government has set a time limit on the final stage, the referendum, which now has to be completed within 56 days of the plan being signed-off by the council. While this is good news, there is no set time frame for the signing-off itself. This is dependent upon the Council’s own work schedules, the nature of the Inspector’s report and the time it takes to make any amendments required by the Inspector.
In addition, the Council may change some of its policies, policies which are outside the planning framework, but which can still impact upon the neighbourhood planning process. One such very recent policy change made by Poole Borough Council relates to the repricing of District car parks, a consequence of which could be increased traffic congestion as car drivers look for on-road spaces rather than pay the higher prices. Also, there could be significant impacts upon the viability of the retail and business centre because of a reduced footfall . As a result, the Forum is now faced with the need to re-evaluate not only the policies relating to economic viability but also re-examine the aspirations we had for Broadstone’s centre. We could be faced with the need to collect more data and re-write some of the text, both of which are time consuming.
Last month’s update expressed a hope that we would be able to publish the revised plan towards the end of January. That is still our aim but there is still another factor to take into consideration. The reorganisation of local government and the proposed merger of Poole with Bournemouth and Christchurch is looking more and more likely to proceed. Poole Borough Council will then have an additional focus which could further delay the completion of our Neighbourhood Plan since all service units will have to undergo major reorganisation to ensure a smooth transition to the new authority. No one knows exactly how this will impact upon our work, but, as with every other extraneous influence that has impacted upon us, we are determined to meet the challenge and deliver a Neighbourhood Plan of high quality before the end of 2017.
Our next Annual General Meeting will take place towards the end of March – date to be confirmed.
Chair, Broadstone Neighbourhood Forum.