Briefing: What updated practice guidance means for neighbourhood planning

Revised guidance offers clarity on how plans should meet housing requirements, writes Chris Bowden.

Q What does the revised Planning Practice Guidance say about neighbourhood planning?

A It provides clarity about how to meet the requirements of paragraph 14 of the National Planning Policy Framework, which provides limited protection to neighbourhood plans against speculative planning applications. Specifically, the guidance relates to the process of assessing sites for allocation in neighbourhood plans and introduces the opportunity to allow for windfalls to contribute towards meeting the housing requirement.

Q What are the revisions designed to achieve?

A If neighbourhood plans are to meet housing need in full, groups need clarity about what is expected of their site allocation process. The guidance achieves this, albeit there is still uncertainty over a local authority’s ability to provide a robust housing requirement figure without an up-to-date local plan and the proportion of any requirement that can be accounted for by windfalls.

Q What does the revised guidance say about the circumstances in which neighbourhood plans can qualify for the limited protection against the presumption in favour of sustainable development?

A It states that site allocations and policies in a neighbourhood plan must meet the plan’s identified housing need in full, no matter how the requirement is derived; existing policies and allocations in other development plan documents do not count towards this. No examples are given of what the neighbourhood plan policies might be that can help to meet the target. In reality, most neighbourhood plans will seek to meet the requirement solely through the allocation of sites plus any windfall allowance.

Q How far will neighbourhood plans be able to rely on windfalls to meet requirements?

The guidance states that a neighbourhood plan cannot rely solely on windfalls. It does not suggest what proportion is appropriate other than the example given of a 50-dwelling requirement being allowed a 10-unit windfall figure. For neighbourhood planning groups considering their options for meeting the requirement, it will be imperative that sound justification is given for any windfall allowance, taking into account past trends and other evidence. The monitoring data from the local planning authority (LPA) will be an important source to help with this, particularly as any windfall allowance must be separate to that identified in a local plan.

Q What does the guidance say about how neighbourhood plans should progress site allocations?

First appraise the options and then undertake individual site assessments against clearly identified criteria. Specific guidance tools are identified but neighbourhood planning groups are not required to follow this guidance. It recognises that a strategic environmental assessment (SEA) may be required if the plan is likely to have a significant effect on the environment, but then states that a neighbourhood planning body is "strongly encouraged to consider the environmental implications of its proposals". This strongly encourages the adoption of an SEA approach even if an SEA is ultimately not needed.

Q What are the likely implications for neighbourhood planning groups, LPAs and applicants?

This does not necessarily mean more work than groups were already required to undertake, unless there is an intention to include a significant windfall allowance, which would require sound justification. The requirement for robust technical evidence to underpin the site allocation process informing neighbourhood plans is fundamental. Working with the LPA and site promoters will make this easier, but local authority planners will need to support groups to achieve this.

LPAs must provide neighbourhood plan groups with a robust housing need figure. This may be challenging where they do not have an adopted or well advanced up-to-date local plan. For applicants, the guidance should provide more certainty where they have engaged effectively and constructively with the development of the neighbourhood plan, and potentially reduce the likelihood of legal challenge.

More details on the new planning guidance can be found here. 

Chris Bowden is director of consultancy Navigus Planning

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