Fradley’s ‘Neighbourhood Plan’ seems as far away from publication as ever.
These plans were introduced in 2011 under ex-Tory PM David Cameron’s Localism Act.
The then housing minister Nick Boles said they were a way to make large amounts of cash through the new ‘Community Infrastructure Levy’ (CIL).
He said villages with ‘Neighbourhood Plans’ (Plan) would get 25 per of the money developers pay district councils when they get planning permission.
Gold-plated letter boxes
Boles claimed parish councils could spend their windfalls on what they liked.
The only restriction, he said, was, “broadly speaking, they won’t be able to gold-plate their post box”.
Critics felt it was merely a cynical bribe to make rural communities accept unwanted housing estates.
Fradley’s first attempt to set up a Plan steering group was an embarrassing flop.
Left in disgust
Only one resident went to the 2102 inaugural public meeting and he took one look and left.
Eighteen months later, in December 2013, Lichfield District Council (LDC) ‘leader’, and Fradley and Streethay Parish Council (FSPC) member, Michael Wilcox, was going all out to create a Plan group in the village.
He has been blamed for losing Fradley £1.5 million in CIL payments by failing to support the first attempt to establish a plan team.
As bad as before
But the second time around things seemed as chaotic as before. Fierce rows broke out at a public Plan meeting in a village church.
An attempt was made to stop photographs being taken by a photojournalist who was later assaulted.
A ‘trolling’ campaign followed on a Fradley Facebook site run by the village correspondent of a local weekly newspaper.
One person writing on the site called the journalist who had been attacked a, “crazed beast”, “racist” and “women hater”.
Before the church meeting, Wilcox picked a villager to be the group’s chairman. But then he shoved him aside and appointed himself.
Wilcox was pushed out too. Resignations followed when his replacement suggested the Tory ‘leader’ should still be involved.
There have been two more chairman since.
An LDC officer said these Plans took two years to complete.
It has been more than four years since Fradley’s first attempt to draw one up and two years and eight months since it began its second.
While Plan steering groups commonly have around ten core ‘steering group’ members, Fradley has so far had 38.
Only five people turned up to the group’s July meeting. They were told another two members had quit.
The members who were left officially suspended their search for an ‘an environment task group co-ordinator’.
Failure to engage
A message went to FSPC saying that LDC refused to support, engage with, or even talk to the Plan group.
It also seemed the group had only just been told by paid consultants what areas their Plan should be covering – some of which they rejected.
And it appeared they were still waiting for a ‘project plan’ to be created for them so they knew what to do.
They said the ‘Vision and Objectives’ document they drew up, in April, 2014, had been replaced.
A member of a Plan group from another community said it seemed that Fradley’s team were no further forward now than when they began, despite the public money that had been spent on the project.
There was utter astonishment that LDC, which Wilcox is supposed to ‘lead’, was refusing to communicate with and help the group.
It also seems Nick Boles’ ‘bribe’ is turning out to be a fraud.
Are they worth it?
Developers are already making legal challenges against Neighbourhood Plans.
One district council said it would not contest a case in one of its parishes because of the costs involved.
As Theresa May’s Tory government continues to strip away district council budgets their ability to fend off such challenges continues to weaken.