Harborough council has become one of the leading districts in the UK for adopted Neighbourhood Plans – after racking up 25.
The local authority’s outstanding success in enhancing “local democracy” is being hailed by council leader Cllr Phil King.
He said he was “delighted” as he stressed that the village grassroots schemes give “real power” to local people.
The council is now celebrating totting up 25 Neighbourhood Plans after villagers in Misterton with Walcote and Hallaton decisively voted to support the projects.
Cllr King, Harborough District Council’s leader and cabinet lead on strategic planning, told the Harborough Mail: “I am delighted that we have now reached the incredible milestone of 25 ‘made’ neighbourhood plans in the Harborough district, with Misterton with Walcote, and Hallaton becoming the latest parishes to adopt one.
"As the leader of Harborough District Council, it's always been clear to me that our residents are highly interested and deeply committed to shaping their locality.
“Creating a Neighbourhood Plan enables that to happen and hands real power to local people, via the referendum process for adoption,” said Cllr King.
“The contribution of motivated volunteers within each community has been crucial in delivering each and every one of these 25 Neighbourhood Plans, since 2012.
“Each plan typically involves 10-12 volunteers, assisted by paid consultants to carry out the majority of the work and engagement within their communities.
“They then bring the different policy strands together into their final Neighbourhood Plan, which is then approved or not, by a public referendum.
“Overall this process takes on average approximately two and a half years, but some have taken much longer.
"To find that Harborough is now one of the top districts nationally for the number of adopted Neighbourhood Plans may surprise some - but not me,” insisted Cllr King.
“We're extremely proud of this and our ongoing commitment to work with our communities.”
But villager Amanda Hall said that people in Walcote, near Lutterworth, had been let down by the council over the Neighbourhood Plan - and had not been properly told what embracing the scheme would mean for them.
Talking about the council being praised for the number of Neighbourhood Plans it has adopted, she told the Harborough Mail: “Harborough District Council and local parish councils might be congratulating themselves over this - but they have wholly failed to engage with villagers in Walcote over this recent referendum on our Neighbourhood Plan.
“We were not told what this would mean for us and what it would involve – what all the implications were.
“And a lot of villagers here I’ve talked to feel exactly the same,” insisted Amanda.
“It’s not as if I’m opposed outright to the Neighbourhood Plan as such because I’m not.
“But I am very annoyed that the flow of information over this proposal has been so poor and there’s been a complete lack of consultation.
“We live in a row of six cottages in Walcote.
“Our property has been listed as a property of local interest without any consultation with us what so ever.
“Furthermore, I identified another four home-owners directly impacted by the plan who were also completely unaware.
“I raised the profile of the Neighbourhood Plan via social media and in the Walcote Village Facebook group.
“It quickly became apparent that residents are either confused or did not know about the plan,” stressed Amanda.
“I’ve lived here 24 years and yet I knew nothing about this Neighbourhood Plan put forward for our village.
“People here didn’t know what they were voting for.
“And when I tried to talk to the council and to councillors about this I got nowhere.
“In fact, I asked the council to postpone this crucial vote to give people more time to understand what they were voting for or against.
“But they refused.
“And that for me is hardly local democracy at its best at work.”
A Harborough council spokesman said that “engagement on Neighbourhood Plans follows a very thorough and formal process”.
The council said: “The qualifying body (Misterton with Walcote Parish Council) is responsible for production of the plan and undertaking the consultation and dialogue with the community prior to submission of the document to Harborough District Council.
“On submission of the plan to the district council the qualifying body (QB) is obliged to provide a consultation statement for the examiner to determine whether the consultation has been sufficient and transparent.”
The council added: “The consultation statement sets out how persons were consulted at pre-submission stage, provides responses to the consultation and how the plan was amended.
“The consultation statement was approved by the examiner as proportionate and appropriate."
The council said that the examiner was satisfied that the requirements had been met and that villagers has been notified.
The council added: “A further opportunity to respond to the submission version of the plan is given by the district council with a second statutory six-week consultation which was undertaken from August 26 to October 7, 2020, for Misterton with Walcote.
“Letters were then sent to residents who had previous engaged with the Neighbourhood Plan, with a further 60-plus emails sent to other consultees including surrounding parishes and statutory consultees.
“The referendum is an opportunity for the entire community to have their say on whether the Misterton with Walcote Neighbourhood Plan should be used to determine planning applications in the parish.
“If a ‘yes’ vote is returned by more than 50 per cent of those that vote then the Plan must be ‘made’ (adopted) by the district council as part of the development plan.
“This has now been completed and the final decision notice issued in accordance with the regulations.”
Villagers in Misterton with Walcote voted in a referendum on Thursday June 3 to adopt their Neighbourhood Plan, with 78 voting in favour and 40 against.
The turnout was 31.4 per cent.
You can find out more about the stages of neighbourhood planning here: https://www.harborough.gov.uk/info/20004/planning_strategy/126/neighbourhood