First neighbourhood plan 'no' vote after examiner's report 'decimates' plan policies

A neighbourhood plan for a Derbyshire parish has been overwhelmingly rejected in a local referendum after the parish council's neighbourhood plan steering group campaigned for a 'no' vote following a dispute with the borough council.

Farmland near Swanwick (picture by Jonathan Clitheroe, Geograph)
Farmland near Swanwick (picture by Jonathan Clitheroe, Geograph)

In a referendum held last week, Swanwick residents voted by 964 (85.5 per cent) to 164 (14.5 per cent) to reject a neighbourhood plan for their parish on a turnout of 26 per cent. The vote is the first in England to reject a neighbourhood plan, according to data compiled for Planning’s Neighbourhood Watch tracker bulletin.

Swanwick Parish Council’s neighbourhood plan steering group had opted to actively campaign for a ‘no’ vote after Amber Valley Borough Council refused Swanwick Parish Council’s request for the neighbourhood plan to be withdrawn from referendum.

The parish council had objected to a series of modifications to the plan recommended by examiner Nigel McGurk and endorsed by the local planning authority.

In a report to a parish council meeting in September, George Soudah, chair of the parish council, said that the examiner had effective "decimated" the submitted plan by "deleting substantial policies and sections of the plan".

"The modified plan no longer represents the aspirations and expectations expressed by the Swanwick community. It has been so watered down that it is unrecognisable as the work of all the groups of people who spent time and effort in making contributions to the plan."

The meeting resolved that the parish council formally write to Amber Valley Borough Council requesting that the plan is withdrawn from referendum "as it is not likely to succeed without the support of Swanwick Parish Council and the Swanwick Neighbourhood Plan Steering Group".

But the borough council rejected that request, prompting the parish council’s neighbourhood plan steering group to resolve to "campaign and actively promote a ‘no’ vote".

In a statement, Amber Valley Borough Council said: "Amber Valley Borough Council accepted the neighbourhood plan after changes, recommended by an independent examiner, were made. The majority of the changes were recommended to meet the basic conditions of a neighbourhood plan.

"Because the parish council did not request that the neighbourhood plan be withdrawn before the borough council’s decision to accept it, we were legally-bound to proceed with organising a referendum."

McGurk’s examination report, published in April, had recommended that, subject to modifications, the neighbourhood plan should proceed to referendum.

The examiner’s modifications included the deletion of policies related to sustainable development principles, protected open land and affordable housing.

McGurk’s report acknowledged that the deletion of the plan’s protected open space policy would be "particularly disappointing for plan-makers and the local community".

But it noted that the council’s local plan "affords protection to open space" and that the replacement local plan "will, as it emerges, afford opportunities, through the consultation process, for Swanwick Parish Council and/or the local community to engage in the consideration of how to protect important spaces into the future".

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