With a drop-in session being held last weekend to let members of the public see how Ripon’s City Plan (the Neighbourhood Plan) is evolving, David looks at progress so far.
‘Write the vision down, inscribe it on the tablets to be easily read . . . if it comes slowly, wait; for it will come, without fail.’
God’s promise to the prophet Habakkuk could be the motto for the group that has been working hard on formulating the City Plan for Ripon.
Planning takes time – especially if it is to have general consensus for its implementation. That’s why the Ripon City Plan is taking time to formulate. It’s being formulated by a programme of discussion and consultation, not by diktat. We are now just two years down the line in formulating what is technically known as our Neighbourhood Plan. When the Government introduced the concept of Neighbourhood Planning – an aspect of its emphasis on Localism – in 2011, Ripon was quick off the mark.
After a meeting hosted by Ripon Chamber of Trade and Commerce, the idea was taken to the Greater Ripon Improvement Partnership (GRIP), which gave the idea of a Neighbourhood Plan for Ripon its full support. GRIP representatives joined four other Ripon organisations – Ripon City Council, Ripon Chamber of Trade and Commerce, Ripon Civic Society and the Chapter of Ripon Cathedral; they asked Harrogate Borough Council (HBC), as the lead authority in the area, to request the government to add Ripon to the list of places wishing to prepare a Neighbourhood Plan. Because we were an early applier, Ripon was also given some assistance with the costs of preparing the plan.
Within two months the area to be covered by the Neighbourhood Plan for Ripon had been formally designated; it covers all the area within the city boundary. Representatives from the groups that signed the letter to HBC, along with others, formed a City Plan Committee under the auspices of Ripon City Council, and they have been working hard ever since.
Last Saturday the committee presented what was in essence a report on its progress so far and its current thinking.
Between April and June last year there was a widespread public consultation under six headings, covering transport, business and shops, the environment, health (including the community and voluntary sectors), homes and education, and attractions, which encompassed how the city welcomes people and what they can do when they come here.
As a result of this consultation, which drew many useful and thoughtful responses, the committee refined its priorities to encompass the revitalisation of the city centre, including how best to use empty shops and land, and to deal with the perennially-thorny matter of parking; rebalancing and developing the local economy; providing a sound community basis and ensuring the whole city can benefit financially from any new development; speeding up approved development by using neighbourhood development orders; using Ripon’s attractive built and natural environment in a sustainable way to attract more visitors and businesses.
The city plan is inevitably dynamic – change happens all the time. Since discussions about the Ripon City Plan started things have changed – there is a review of how health services are provided for the city, Claro Barracks has been scheduled for closure, there has been welcome new investment in city centre shops, businesses and restaurants and there are now fewer vacant shops – and we have more details from HBC’s Local Plan, with which the city plan has to be concordant. So flexibility is a keynote for the plan.
The exhibition and drop-in session least Saturday was not a presentation of the plan – that will be formulated next year. What it did show, though, was how much detailed thinking has already gone into its eventual formulation.
There is no space in this column to cover all the points it makes – the full text to the exhibition is available on the dedicated city plan website at http://riponcityplan.com – but it is important to note that there are limitations to what can be included in the plan.
The Government website that gives information about Neighbourhood Plans says that a plan ‘establishes general planning policies for the development and use of land in a neighbourhood, like where new homes and offices should be built [and] what they should look like.’ It also says that ‘Neighbourhood plans allow local people to get the right type of development for their community, but the plans must still meet the needs of the wider area.’
Because all Neighbourhood Plans have to have a fairly narrow focus, on policies and proposals for how land and buildings are used, the City Plan Committee sensibly warns in the exhibition material that ‘there will be things you suggest that would make Ripon a better place but which we may not be able to include . . . Some changes – for example, new traffic control measures, more regular environmental maintenance, different parking charges or frequency of bus services – cannot be included.
Others, such as provision of a new swimming pool or hospital, could be beyond what the plan can propose with confidence. We will try and find the best way to include them, record your concerns and do our best to get them taken on by other means.’
The city plan when formulated and officially passed as sound, will eventually go to a local vote. If the vote goes in favour, it becomes part of the planning process for Ripon.
That’s why it is important that all citizens take note of it – and take part, too. The consultation process, of which the exhibition was part, continues, and the committee welcomes input. Do get involved and help shape the future of Ripon.