Stronger together – how smaller councils working together can be more effective

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By Michael Rayner

Michael Rayner, Planning Campaigns Consultant for CPRE Norfolk, explains how smaller councils working together can be more effective.

Across the many and varied landscapes and settlements of our county there are thousands of parish and town councillors giving their time, experience and expertise to ‘doing their bit’ for their local communities. Across Norfolk our six district and borough councils are subdivided into well over five hundred parish and town councils or meetings, each with their own elected councils, while the Norwich City Council area does not currently have separately elected parish councils.

These councils vary largely due to the differences in the communities they serve, although they find common ground in being under the umbrella of the Norfolk Association of Local Councils (NALC.)

While each Parish or Town Council has to and wants to focus on its own patch within its own parish boundary, an increasing number of wider issues suggest that a collective approach at times can be the way forward to help improve the quality of life for residents. Increasingly, large-scale projects, often those which come within the definition of ‘Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects’ (NSIPs), are areas which can benefit from a joint approach by these most local of councils.

With the advent and growth of off-shore wind power, it has perhaps come as a surprise to many that almost every wind farm requires its own onshore cable corridor, often stretching over 40 miles. Parish and Town Councils along and close to these cable corridors have found they share similar concerns and can find a stronger voice through liaison with one another, with recent calls being made to investigate the viability of an Offshore Ring Main (ORM) which would almost remove the need for onshore cabling.

Parish and Town Councils (and not to forget the usually smaller Parish Meetings) have also found common ground when looking into other major projects which would have largescale impacts on their communities.

These include the proposal for a Mid Norfolk Garden Town between Bintree, Billingford and North Elmham, and are likely to include parishes working together on various issues around the proposed Norwich Western Link road. Liaison and sharing experiences are also very helpful for parish matters such as when considering how to write a Neighbourhood Plan, making grant applications, or when planning for a new village hall.

CPRE Norfolk has been working with Parish and Town Councils for some time and started its Norfolk Alliance in 2016. This was originally formed to campaign for existing allocated housing in Local Plans to be developed before any new allocations in new and emerging Plans are allowed to be built out.

This common-sense approach would see the most sustainable sites for housing being developed before newer, less sustainable albeit probably more profitable greenfield sites being given permission for development. Given the building rate of new housing there are sufficient allocated sites in existing Local Plans to provide the necessary supply of new housing, without the need to allow further sites to be developed.

This message has struck a chord with local councils as nearly 30% have signed a pledge to this effect with the figure being over 37% for councils in South Norfolk and Broadland.

It is now hoped to spread the CPRE Norfolk Alliance wider, both in terms of its numbers and aims. There are a wide range of topics for which discussion could be had, advice given and hopefully agreement be found. CPRE Norfolk’s Vision for Norfolk (available at www.v4n.org.uk ) contains a strategic common-sense approach to managing change in the county, which could be used as a starting point for further discussion and action.

If any Parish or Town Councils are interested in becoming part of this Alliance they should visit the Parish Council Alliance page.

This article appeared in the October 2019 edition of the Norfolk Magazine.

Norfolk Magazine article October 2019

Offshore windfarms have brought new planning challenges Evelyn Simak - geograph.org.uk/p/3968949
A footpath alongside a hedgerow and farmland in the Norfolk countryside