Neighborhood planners – BEWARE

“Cheshire East Council has decided to close its grant scheme which was set up to help communities create Neighbourhood Plans, to establish local planning policy that is relevant to their communities and help shape local development.

The Council launched a programme of support for Neighbourhood Planning in July 2014 through which local town and parish councils could apply for a grant of up to £7,000 from Cheshire East Council to assist with the development of their neighbourhood plan.

The aim of the Neighbourhood Planning Grants Scheme was to support local councils with the preparation of Neighbourhood Plans, specifically to support the commissioning of technical support and specialist advice, community engagement and consultation and collating of necessary evidence.

However, Cheshire East Council has recently decided to cancel the scheme which means Alderley Edge Parish Council will have £7000 less than expected to create a Neighbourhood Plan for the village.

The Parish Council had to apply for the Government grant of £9,000 and receive it before they could apply for the Cheshire East grant of £7,000. Councillor Christine Munro applied on behalf of the council for £4,646.00 which will be use towards funding work on the Neighbourhood Plan. This was received in October 2016.

Councillor Munro explained “At the beginning of the financial year, providing we have used the amount we have received, we can apply for the remaining £4,354.00. We would then have been eligible to apply for the £7,000 from Cheshire East but unfortunately this is now no longer available.”

She added “Providing we can get enough help and advice from residents to enable us to produce a Neighbourhood Plan for Alderley Edge we should be able to produce it within the budget of £9,000.

Speaking about the decision to cancel this scheme, Councillor Ainsley Arnold, Cheshire East Council cabinet member for housing and planning, said: “Cheshire East is a high-performing council which delivers value for money and more than 500 services every day to local people.

“However, it needs to find £100m to balance the books over the next three years because of significant cuts in central government funding and rising demand for services, especially adult social care support.

“The council is a great supporter of neighbourhood planning and over the past three years has sought to build a platform within Cheshire East for communities to meaningfully participate in the plan-making system here.

“We are making good progress on the Local Plan and will continue to support our town and parish councils to deliver plan-led development.

“The council was originally one of the frontrunner authorities that supported neighbourhood planning, to get it off the ground, and has continued to be part of this important tier of plan making ever since, launching it’s own frontrunner scheme in 2014 to fund external consultancy support to the first 14 neighbourhood plans that came forward in the borough.

“Since then, the council has put in place a dedicated neighbourhood planning team, invested in a number of tools and guidance documents to ensure groups can minimise their costs, when employing consultancy support, and has directly provided high-value evidence to support neighbourhood plan policy development alongside providing professional guidance and support to groups across the authority.

“The council’s input and investment in this important area of work now means that Cheshire East is one of the top five most active authorities in the country for neighbourhood planning – with 40 neighbourhood areas either designated or being consulted on and excellent progress being made by town and parish councils across the authority.

“While regrettable that the council has now closed the grants scheme, the work it has done to date has established an excellent platform for neighbourhood planning in Cheshire East and a network of neighbourhood planners that the council will continue to work with to develop neighbourhood plans and deliver sustainable development across the borough.”

“Bovis accused of pressuring buyers to move into unfinished homes”

Bovis Homes has been accused of pressuring customers to move into unfinished houses before Christmas by offering them cash incentives, a week before it issued a profit warning.

Several Bovis customers said they had been offered cheques of £2,000 to £3,000, or other incentives, if they completed on their house purchases before 23 December.

Members of the Bovis Homes Victims Group on Facebook, which also has a YouTube channel, have swelled to 650, with 244 people joining in the last two months.

Marc Holden, one of the group’s administrators, said: “We were getting a lot of people joining the group just before Christmas who were posting about being ‘encouraged’ to complete by 23 December, some were being offered money and other incentives.”

He said a group of at least 30 disgruntled Bovis customers would stage a protest at the company’s annual meeting in Tunbridge Wells on 2 May.

A company spokesman said: “Bovis Homes is fully aware of the customer group and their complaints, and we take these issues very seriously. We recognise that in some of these cases we have not provided our best standard of customer service and have taken too long to rectify customer issues, for which we apologise.”

Bovis, one of Britain’s biggest housebuilders, added that a “limited number of customers were offered an incentive to complete before the year end and all homes were habitable with the requisite CML industry certification, with a timetable for outstanding finishing works to be carried out in the new year.”

The firm insisted that no one was forced to move in before Christmas and that the homes only needed some finishing touches. “Customers were clearly free to decide their preferred course of action. The group often offers a range of incentives at sale and completion in line with industry practice,” the spokesman said.

The housebuilder’s chief executive David Ritchie quit on Monday, less than a week after the group issued its profit warning. It warned last Wednesday that it would complete about 180 fewer homes than expected in 2016, blaming operational issues. This will affect profits – Bovis now expects to make an annual pre-tax profit of £160m to £170m, compared with analysts’ forecasts of about £183m.

One couple was offered a post-completion cheque of £2,000 if they could legally complete on their property by 23 December, according to an email seen by the Guardian.

Comments from other customers suggest the homes lacked more than just finishing touches.

Chad Clifton said he and his wife were “forced” to complete on their four-bedroom house in Brockworth, Gloucestershire on 23 December and found the fridge had not been fitted yet and that the hallway was unfinished, out of a list of 115 defects. They were offered £350 and a free move. “We were told we didn’t have much choice – if the house is ready we have to complete on 23r December.”

None of the defects have been fixed yet but Clifton said the couple “love the house” and that the customer service had improved vastly after his wife sent a scathing letter to Bovis’s head office.

Another Bovis customer said he and his wife had been offered £3,000 if they completed on 23 December, but declined the offer because of numerous problems (such as the wrong kitchen being fitted) at the £320,000 three-bedroom property in Inkberrow, Worcestershire.

The couple are still waiting for the problems to be rectified and to complete on the purchase. He said they had not been offered any compensation despite the stress caused, time taken off work and the cost of extending storage.

Holden and his wife form part of a group of eight families who bought Bovis homes across the country in recent years and have taken the company to task over defects and the length of time it is taking to fix them. In response, the firm launched a review in December and set up a team from across the business to resolve the issues.

Bovis said: “We recognise that our customer service has to improve and the leadership of the organisation is absolutely committed to getting this right.”

Karen Louise Richardson and her family said it had taken until now, two years after they moved into a four-bedroom house in Norwich, to fix more than 200 defects.

The Richardsons moved in on 19 December 2014 but maintain they were not advised that their house was unfinished until an hour after completion. “I’d never buy Bovis again; I’d never buy a new build again unless I did a lot of research,” she said.”

“Planning systems favour developers over communities” survey finds

“Almost three-quarters of local councils believe that the planning system is weighted too heavily in favour of developers at the expense of local democracy, according to a survey.

Commissioned by the National Trust and carried out by the Local Government Information Unit, the survey canvassed 1,200 ward councilors in England on aspects of the planning system.

The results, published today, show that 72% of councillors feel the existing system puts the interests of developers over and above those of councils and communities. Also, half of councillors said planning departments are inadequately funded, and the same amount claimed sites that are not in line with their council’s local plans are being approved for new housing.

The government has pushed for the adoption of local plans throughout England. In a statement to the Commons in 2015, then housing and planning minister Brandon Lewis described local plans as the “cornerstone” of the government’s planning reforms. Produced in consultation with communities, they are designed to offer “certainty on where new homes are to be built”.

The survey findings come as the government puts the final touches to its housing white paper, which is expected to be published later this month. The National Trust and LGIU urged Whitehall to revise the paper to boost confidence in the way the system works.

In a joint statement, the organisations argued that the views of councillors were often ignored in debates around the future of the planning system. “Yet, as local decision-makers, and an important link with local communities, they have an essential role to play in ensuring development is sensitive to the needs of the area,” they said.

Theresa May’s government has responded to pressure over a lack of new housebuilding in the country by announcing a raft of new measures and significant funding to boost construction.

As such, communities secretary Sajid Javid last week invited housing providers to bid for a share of a £7bn fund in what was described as a “dramatic expansion” of the affordable house programme.

The survey also revealed anxieties about loosened planning restrictions, with 58% of councillors believing their council would allocate green belt land for housing in the next five years. There are also concerns about the introduction of permitted development rights for home extensions, office-to-residential use conversions and other changes of use.

Moreover, the National Planning Policy Framework does not appear to be having the positive impact it was intended to have on design quality. Only 18% of councillors say designs have improved, and only 12% believe that loosening planning restrictions has had any positive impact.

Jonathan Carr-West, chief executive of the LGiU, said that five years on from the adoption of the government’s planning reforms, it was worrying that councillors felt it hadn’t delivered the localism that was promised.

He said: “If ministers are serious about local plans being at the heart of the planning system, then they should invest in council planning teams and use the housing white paper to give them the tools to deliver good quality housing in the right places.”

Honiton Neighbourhood Plan feedback requested

In this week’s edition of the Herald, in the Honiton area, a copy of the Honiton Neighbourhood Plan questionnaire is being delivered to give residents the chance to put forward their opinions on the subject.

In a statement from Honiton Town Council, it said: “Honiton has seen a lot of housing growth in the last 30 years or so, without the community having a say.

“The Government has made it possible for local people to make a difference to their area by making a Neighbourhood Plan.

“The Honiton Neighbourhood Plan will be a document which says how local people want Honiton to be developed over the next 15 to 20 years.”

The Neighbourhood Plan Steering Group has produced a questionnaire to ask for the views of the whole community on the future of Honiton.

The chairman of the Neighbourhood Plan Steering Group said: “It is really important that everyone in the community, both young and old, has their say.

“If we don’t know what local people want or need for the future, we can’t tell the Local Planning Authority.

“We would also like to hear from people who come to Honiton to work or to use the town’s facilities.”

The responses and comments from the questionnaire will enable the steering group to start to draft the neighbourhood plan.

There will be more opportunities to have your say on the draft plan as it develops.

The final neighbourhood plan, which may take up to two years to complete, will be a planning document which sets out the vision for the town and parish of Honiton and contains policies for the development and use of land in the area.

The town council spokesman said: “Please look out for your copy of the Neighbourhood Plan questionnaire in this week’s Herald, as it is time to have your say.”