Don Foster MP writes… Local communities say ‘Yes’ to locally-led housebuilding

Amid all the excitement of the local elections, two results of polls on the same day may have passed you by. While in many parts of the country voters were electing local councillors, in Thame in Oxfordshire and in the St.James area of Exeter voters were deciding whether to accept or reject locally developed Neighbourhood Plans.

Like many Liberal Democrats I was anxious to see how well we did in the council elections. But as Minister with responsibility for “localism”, I was also keeping a close eye on these Neighbourhood Plan referenda.

After all Neighbourhood Planning is part of the Liberal Democrat agenda; one of the new community rights introduced by our Government to give people more say over their area and putting communities in charge of setting out the homes, shops and amenities they want.

In both cases plans by local people to boost house building in their areas were approved when communities in the two towns voted ‘yes’.

The votes mark two firsts – the first plan to set out the precise sites people want to see homes build on in their area and the first plan being voted on in an urban area.

In Thame, Oxfordshire, residents voted for 775 new homes, linked into the town via new pedestrian, cycle and public transport routes. The plan ensures that Thame remains a market town and acts as a centre for the surrounding area with policies for new employment land, that improve existing town centre shopping and to encourage diverse uses of upper floors above shops in the town centre. The plan was passed by 76% of voters with a 40% turn out.

In St James near the centre of Exeter, where the Neighbourhood Plan was developed by a newly formed neighbourhood forum, people voted on a plan that will bring improvements to the streetscape and landscape of St James and be a springboard for improvements to the local environment, with an emphasis on sustainable development and support for the local economy. The plan was approved by nearly 92% of voters with nearly 21% turnout.

Neighbourhood planning replaces top-down regional planning and ends the planning resentment that stopped the homes and businesses people want being built by putting communities centre stage in local planning.

More than 500 communities are now making use of the new neighbourhood planning powers that that have real statutory weight in the planning system.

The Upper Eden Neighbourhood Plan was the first to come into force after its successful referendum in March. Now there are two more and many others are hot on their heels.

I once called the Localism Agenda a “quiet revolution”; it’s getting noisier all the time. And to help, I recently announced a new £9.5 million 2-year programme to support people in hundreds of areas across the country to create their own neighbourhood plans: support that includes up to £7,000 to contribute to the costs of preparing a proposal.

Find out more here.

* Don Foster is MP for Bath, Liberal Democrat Chief Whip and Coalition Deputy Chief Whip.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Helen Dudden 8th May '13 - 6:52pm

    Don your councilors love petitions is that what you mean?

    We in Bath have a serious housing problem, the problem being social housing, I have just written comments for those who are working class and need homes that they can afford.

    At this rate only the MOD is going to get built, Don I have lost patience with you as a person, you say one thing and do another.

    I would state, it is being in a government with like minds, indecisive and not listening, or was the results of UKIP, and the very recent comments by your fellow coalition a dream. Of course, the voters are only needed at election time. That is when the promises are made, after election they are broken.

    Oh by the way there is another pub to rescue? Interested?

  • Helen Dudden 9th May '13 - 9:16am

    Don, I have just been adding some comments to the Chronicle on the approved building of homes, for the people in Bath. The dreaded word social housing.

    It appears there is some concerns that some the homes will be used to buy and let, again, at prices above what the working class will be able to afford. I will do my utmost to make sure that those who work for a living and not all social housing tenants are not as others would like to perceive.

    I am one of those people. My home is one of those Georgian properties very cold, and this in turn means damp. Not able to heat, only with very expensive heating. Ice has formed on the inside of the windows in the winter.

    I was widowed when I was 30 years of age by a car crash. A drunk driver hit the vehicle, and my husband was killed out right.

    Those of us in social housing are there for different reason, I went on to go blind after a very serious health issue, then surgery restored some of my sight.

    At 65 years of age I never knew being a pensioner would be this difficult, my reason to stand for being working class.

  • Helen Dudden 9th May '13 - 10:57am

    I am not trying to make Don Foster look ill informed in this column, I highlight the problems with society.

    Don Foster was elected to keep the Conservative vote from the city.

    I feel you do not know me either, I work for the better of society. I stand for human rights and the ability to have justice.

    Could I also add that Don Foster MP, is supposed to be the Minister in this realm, and responsible for the much needed housing.

    It appears that I am the one who is judged, because I speak out on the subject of what needs to happen.

    My own case is not the only serious issue with housing, could I also add, that a drunk driver can remove much from the lives of those left behind. To drink and drive is never an except-able situation.

    Your defense of Don Foster MP is going to be short lived, as he retires from the scene and could I wish him well as he fades from the scene.

  • Helen Dudden 9th May '13 - 11:01am

    Don, could I add that until the situation in Bath has reached an except-able level and excepted as needed, then the situation continues.

    Social housing has been there for years, it saved both myself and my young children from being homeless.

    I feel judged by one of your colleagues and it is a shame that you will not answer my questions. He does not know as I do not know him.

  • Helen Dudden 11th May '13 - 9:30am

    Don, could I add further to the 6 comments on your article, and I am surprised that you have such little interest.

    We need more openness and transparency in local government, I felt it was not fair for those in the positions of councilor to be organizing the blocking of house building. Do you feel that this attitude will make positive actions happen?

    There is a need for positive thinking and planning to supply and support the local economy. We simply can’t exist on purely tourism, the tourist is fickle and can change.

    House building was meant to stimulate the economy as well as provide homes and security.

    I have suggested a meeting, that too is democracy in the making, you will also know me, unlike the other gentle who has never met me. I work constantly on the subject of improvement for children, and also human rights.

    To sum up, I wish to see clearly outlined progress for enough homes to improve the sad situation on both the bedroom tax and the cap on housing benefit. Those working are finding life difficult too.

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