Briefing - Neighbourhood plans and the weight attached to them

Paying careful attention to policy and procedure is key to success in neighbourhood planning, Dave Chetwyn advises.

Q: How many neighbourhood development plans (NDPs) have been approved so far?

A: Three NDPs have been "made", or adopted, five more have succeeded at examination and several more have been submitted for examination. More than 590 neighbourhood areas have been designated.

Q: Can an NDP be produced where no up-to-date local plan is in place?

A: NDPs do not have to wait for adoption of a local plan. One of the "basic conditions" against which they are tested is whether they are in general conformity with strategic policies in the development plan for the area at the time of examination. NDPs are not tested against the policies in an emerging local plan.

However, another basic condition requires appropriate regard to national policy and ministerial guidance. This could include the National Planning Policy Framework's (NPPF's) requirement for policy to be evidence-based. Evidence supporting an emerging local plan could be relevant when making this assessment.

Q: What are the advantages of preparing NDPs where no local plan is in place?

A: NDPs allow parish and town councils or designated neighbourhood forums to write their own policies and take the lead in deciding what happens in their area. This can help provide clarity for developers where there is no up-to-date local plan.

Also, the process has allowed many to undertake planning in a more interactive way and develop constructive relationships with a range of stakeholders. For those preparing NDPs, it is still advisable to make representations on emerging local plans, especially on strategic policies. NDPs can only modify non-strategic policies.

Q: At what point does an emerging NDP start to carry weight in development management decisions?

A: Paragraph 216 of the NPPF sets out the weight that may be given to relevant policies in emerging plans. Factors to consider include the stage of preparation of the plan and the extent to which there are unresolved objections to relevant policies. It is for the decision-maker in each case to determine what is a material consideration and what weight to give to it.

The Department for Communities and Local Government's (DCLG's) draft National Planning Practice Guidance on neighbourhood planning states: "Whilst a referendum ensures that the community has the final say on whether the neighbourhood plan comes into force, decision-makers should respect evidence of local support prior to the referendum when seeking to apply weight to an emerging neighbourhood plan.

"The consultation statement submitted with the draft neighbourhood plan should reveal the quality and effectiveness of the consultation that has informed the plan proposals. And all representations on the proposals should have been submitted to the local planning authority by the close of the local planning authority's publicity period."

Q: Following a referendum, does the local planning authority have discretion whether to make the NDP?

A: Not normally. If the community referendum results in a yes vote, then the authority has to make the plan. It does have discretion over whether to make a plan in designated business areas where there are two referenda - one for residents and one for non-domestic ratepayers - and the outcomes are different. Also, the local planning authority is not required to make an NDP or neighbourhood development order where it considers that it would breach, or be otherwise incompatible with, any European Union or human rights obligations.

Q: Can local authorities review and update NDPs once made?

A: The way a plan is modified or reviewed is by replacing it with a new one containing the modifications. The new plan would be produced by a qualifying body going through the neighbourhood planning statutory process again.

Dave Chetwyn is managing director of Urban Vision Enterprise CIC and planning adviser to Locality.

FACT BOX

- The DCLG-funded Supporting Communities in Neighbourhood Planning programme is assisting around 400 neighbourhood planning bodies through grants and direct professional support.

www.mycommunityrights.org.uk

- So far, turnouts in neighbourhood plan referenda have ranged from 21 to 52 per cent. All have resulted in a yes vote, ranging from 76 to 96 per cent.

- Paragraph 185 of the NPPF states that once a neighbourhood plan is made, its policies take precedence in decision-making over non-strategic policies in a preceding local plan.


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