Woodbridge: Document to give town more say on housing and infrastructure

The Woodbridge growth and future development public consultation. Consultant Chris Bowden speaking.

The Woodbridge growth and future development public consultation. Consultant Chris Bowden speaking. - Credit: Archant

A Suffolk town has taken a step towards shaping its own future and fending off unwanted development.

Woodbridge hosted the first public consultation on its emerging neighbourhood plan – a document designed to give communities more say on growth in their area, including housing allocation, transport, jobs and retail development.

Chris Bowden, director of Navigus Planning Ltd, a Manningtree-based independent consultancy firm specialising in neighbourhood plans, appeared at the meeting at Woodbridge Community Hall to explain the process to members of the public in greater detail.

Following the event, he said: “The intention was to inform people and help them understand what can and can’t be done.

“Every circumstance is different. Often communities think they can dictate what happens and that will be the end of it.

“Woodbridge realises it has to accommodate growth and that this land use plan will give people the opportunity to shape what happens.

“Part of the process is to establish if a site offered by a landowner for development is suitable. If so, that site would go into the plan as a site designation.

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“It’s a plan-making process that allows the community to set the strategy, rather than facing the frustration of making 11th hour objections at the planning application stage.

“The process of traditional planning applications remains the same but development committees would have to take on board the policies in the neighbourhood plan.”

Neighbourhood planning was introduced under the Localism Act 2011. In October last year, Suffolk Coastal District Council approved the first four neighbourhood plan areas for Framlingham, Great Bealings, Leiston and Rendlesham.

Mr Bowden said that between 30 and 40 plans have so far been to a referendum but few have been in place long enough to see results, with the exception of Thame in Oxfordshire – similar to Woodbridge in population and size, and a front runner in the neighbourhood planning process – where the community decided a radically different and more sustainable way of allocating 600 homes by integrating them into the town rather than on one large site close to its borders.

He said: “Every political party seems committed to keeping the process. Within the context of the General Election, it will be interesting to see what the parties have to say about communities having more of a say on what happens with various matters – it’s what the Big Society was based on.

“There is still the challenge of engaging the whole community rather than a section that would naturally migrate to a certain issue.”

Mr Bowden, who is also consulting on more advanced neighbourhood plans in Leiston and Framlingham, said it could take between 18 months and two years for Woodbridge gather evidence and to have a draft plan in place. A working group is currently being set up to oversee the process.