Since December 2011 the Localism Act has enabled communities, which opt to do so, to have more of a say about how neighbourhoods develop. This is a major change from the present system where key decisions are generally in the hands of the developer and the planning authority, Rother District Council. The Act gives the community of Rye the ability to influence and shape its future.
At the heart of the Act is the Neighbourhood Plan (NP), which can be made voluntarily in a well guided and part funded staged process. Once completed, the community have the ability to vote in a local referendum for acceptance and if they do so then the plan becomes “statutory” and vital rules for councillors at town, district and county level when making community development decisions. In short, communities with an NP have the means to define the “what, where and time frame” of development in their area. It would provide, for generations to come, a say in how the neighbourhood should change.
So, what has happened so far in Rye? Rye Town Council has opted to make a plan and Rother District Council has approved the area of Rye Parish as “the designated neighbourhood”. On October 17 2013 at Rye College a two year process was launched; a website, with Facebook page and twitter account have been constructed. After significant consultation the town council decided to form a steering group of councillors and citizens to lead on the process, but it should be emphasised that the plan will come (bottom up) from ideas from the community.
At the end of 2013, the results of the initial rounds of conversations and consultation have produced some issues to drive the plan. These range from vacant sites, such as the west side of The Strand, to aspirations for community facilities, as at the Tilling Green Old School and improvements to the transport system, improved parking and access. Throughout 2014 there will be public workshops, surveys and opportunities for Rye citizens to shape the plan.
Some have already said “no one will take any notice and what a lot of work for nothing”. They claim that many residents are not interested in politics or the way decisions are reached; many are just too busy getting on with their lives and are content to leave it to others. Whatever the view, many people in Rye are very interested and want Rye to be the place of choice for our children and their children’s children to live and work. Having an NP means that developers will have to conform to areas where the community has agreed growth and planning applications must comply with the type and design of development specified by the plan.
No plan means no say and there will be a presumption in favour of the developer to build wherever. The community will continue to be reliant upon Bexhill politicians to determine the scope and location of development within the town. Please look at the website and keep an eye open for public events planned to enable anyone to get involved.
Anthony Kimber is a member of the Rye Neighbourhood Plan steering group