Four draft NDOs drawn up by Cockermouth Town Council in Cumbria have this week been published by Allerdale District Council for a statutory six-week publicity period ahead of their examination. A consultation by the town council finished last Friday.
According to Steve Robinson, a senior planner at the district council, which supported the town council in preparing the orders, these are the first NDOs in England to reach this stage.
Like neighbourhood plans, NDOs can only be drawn up by parish or town councils or designated neighbourhood forum. They must also be independently examined and then approved by a local referendum before being adopted.
The first NDO proposes allowing the change of use of shops and offices into cafes, bars and restaurants without the need for planning permission in the town’s historical Market Place area. It also proposes allowing chairs and tables on designated areas of the pavement.
The second order would allow the conversion of the upper floors of commercial properties on two town centre streets into a maximum of four flats. Current permitted development rights allow the conversion of a maximum of two flats.
Traditional timber shopfronts could be installed without permission in the same two streets under the third order, while the fourth, which applies to five other streets, allows timber sliding windows and doors to be put in.
Robinson said the NDO project came about after flooding in 2009 caused serious damage to the town centre, which is covered by a conservation area. Residents and traders found that the need for planning permission delayed the repair and restoration process, he said, and was expensive.
He also said there was a "strong housing need" in the town centre together with some redundant commercial space.
The examination was expected to take place in February, Robinson said, and the referendum next spring.
If successful, he said the aim was to implement the NDOs next summer.
Cockermouth Town Council is not currently preparing a neighbourhood plan, Robinson added, but has contributed to Allerdale’s emerging local plan, which has just been submitted for examination.
Cumbria was also the home of England’s first neighbourhood plan, in Upper Eden.
He said: "We are quite confident we have drafted four good orders that will stand the test of the examination, but we shall wait and see."
More information of the Cockermouth NDOs can be found here.