Neighbourhood planning: Update 16 June 2016

Sections 139 to 142 enhance the secretary of state's default powers on neighbourhood planning. They include powers to direct districts and boroughs on requests to designate neighbourhood planning areas and to set tighter timescales and deadlines for the neighbourhood planning process.

Neighbourhood planning area designation

Under existing law, districts and boroughs only have to designate "at least some of the area applied for" by parish councils or neighbourhood forums as neighbourhood planning areas. Section 139 gives the secretary of state powers to order districts and boroughs to designate the entire neighbourhood planning area applied for by a parish council or neighbourhood forum, subject to specific exceptions.

A Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) technical consultation issued on 18 February proposed that districts and borough must designate the whole area applied for, with no discretion to amend the boundary, where a parish council applies for this or, in other cases, where a local authority has not determined an application for designation within the current time periods applying. It proposed that decisions on applications to designate a forum should be made within 13 weeks, or 20 weeks where an application is made to more than one authority. This time period would not apply in situations where more than one neighbourhood forum application has been made for the same or an overlapping area.

Referendums on neighbourhood plans

Under section 140, the communities secretary will be able to set time limits within which local authorities must decide whether to hold an neighbourhood development plan (HDP) referendum and whether to adopt plans approved at referendum. The DCLG’s February technical consultation proposed that districts and boroughs would normally be given five weeks from receipt of an examiner’s report to decide whether to hold a referendum. Where a referendum is agreed, it would then normally need to be held within ten weeks, or 14 weeks in the case of a business referendum.

The communities secretary will also be able to set a date by which the local authority must adopt a neighbourhood plan approved at referendum, except where the council thinks this would breach international obligations or rights. Currently, local authorities only have to do this "as soon as reasonably practicable after the referendum is held".

Ministerial intervention powers

Section 141 includes powers for the secretary of state, where requested by the relevant parish council or neighbourhood to intervene in a local planning authority's decision as to whether to stage a referendum on a neighbourhood plan proposal in certain circumstances - such as when an authority has failed to decide whether to hold one by a specified date or where it does not follow an examiner’s recommendations.

He will be able to districts and boroughs to send an NDP or NDO to referendum with modifications he has made, refuse the proposal or extend the referendum area. He will be able to prevent councils from deciding whether an NDP or neighbourhood development order should proceed to referendum until he has decided whether to intervene and will be empowered to appoint a planning inspector to take the decision on his or her behalf.

The consultation said that in considering requests to intervene, the secretary of state will consider whether the plan or order "plans positively" for local development needs, taking account of the latest evidence. "For instance, where a neighbourhood plan allocates sites or contains policies for the supply of housing, the secretary of state would expect that the neighbourhood plan has fully taken into account the latest, up-to-date evidence of housing need," it said.

Neighbourhood group engagement

Under section 142, neighbourhood forums are given the right already enjoyed by town and parish councils to ask districts and boroughs to be notified of planning applications in their area. During the passage of the bill, the government rejected moves from peers to introduce a neighbourhood right of appeal against housing approvals that breach an emerging or adopted NDP. The DCLG’s February consultation paper also proposed that neighbourhood forums should be designated as consultation bodies that districts and boroughs must notify and invite representations from during local plan preparation.

Commencement: Sections 139 and 140 came into effect on 12 May. The remaining provisions will come into force on a date to be prescribed by regulations.

Comment: Mike Kiely, chairman of the board of the Planning Officers Society, highlighted the extra burdens that these measures could impose on local authorities. "These provisions involve tighter timescales and a much clearer duty to assist neighbourhood forums in preparing their plans. Although there is some support from the DCLG to assist with these additional costs, there is no certainty that this will continue. So this could become a very significant financial burden for those councils that enjoy high levels of neighbourhood planning activity in there are," he said.

The DCLG technical consultation document is here

More on this topic:
Lords back neighbourhood right of appeal