The Neighbourhood Planning Process
What is the purpose of the Neighbourhood Plan?
To help our community influence planning in our parish. We have never had this power before.
How will it do this?
By creating local planning policies against which all planning applications will be assessed. (It is important to understand that the NP is a set of policies and not itself a planning application. It is for developers, at a time of their choosing, to submit planning applications that comply with the policies.) There should be an understanding of what the Neighbourhood Plan will NOT do (e.g. it's not going to stop development earmarked in the EHDC plan).
How effective will these policies be?
The policies in the NP will be as strong as those of EHC’s district plan. They have the same legal force and cover the period to 2033, following which it is expected there would be a new NP.
Can we write any policies we like?
No – there are national policies and district-wide strategic policies that we cannot be in conflict with. Our policies will be consistent with those but add a local dimension to reflect the uniqueness of the parishes and what is important to its residents.
Is it all about housing?
The NP will have housing policies but equally important will be environmental policies to protect our beautiful countryside.
Who is producing the Neighbourhood Plan?
EHC approved a request by the Parish Councils (PC) in 2016 to be allowed to prepare a NP. A Neighbourhood Plan Steering Group was created and is made up of volunteers from the parish and parish councillors, supported by professional consultants with proven local expertise. The Steering Group will do all the work but it is the PC that owns the document.
Are meetings of the Steering Group held in public?
Initially, when establishing the Steering Group, there were public decisions to be taken e.g. adoption of terms of reference, site assessment process and the like but since then it has been all about implementation of the NP process via public consultations. The way it operates has been through informal workshops at which consultation material is prepared.
Endless hours are spent visiting and revisiting draft texts, preparing consultation material, sharing national and local policy updates to ensure the NP is current, checking alignment with EHC policies, challenging each other’s drafts and agreeing next tasks schedules etc etc. Monthly updates have been provided to the PC meetings. Reports on our spending is provided by the Treasurer at each steering meeting and details can be found on the monthly meeting notes issued.
What remains to be done? What happens next?
The Pre-Submission (Regulation 14) consultation, when a draft of the NP will be shared with residents and statutory consultees for comment.
EHC will formally review the plan and conduct a Regulation 16 consultation, once again approaching third party stakeholders such as CPRE, utility companies, neighbouring parishes etc for their comments. Then a planning inspector employed by the Secretary of State will be jointly identified by the PC and EHC to conduct a review of the NP to ensure it is legal, compliant with national and district policies and soundly prepared. Finally, once any changes required from these statutory consultations have been incorporated into the NP, a referendum of the electorate is conducted to approve adoption of the plan. In the jargon the plan is “made” and becomes part of the district’s development plan. Subsequent planning applications will then be assessed against its policies.
Who checks to ensure the policies in the NP are properly prepared? Writing planning law isn’t for amateurs on a committee surely?
There are several levels of scrutiny. Firstly, we are fortunate to have a number of volunteers on the Steering Group who have experience within their own professional lives required to write policies The professional planning consultants advising the Steering Group are Jacqueline Veater, who is helping many local PCs with their NPs, and Ruth Fleetwood, formerly an IBM project manager. Beyond the immediate team, the plan will be scrutinised by the planners at EHC for compliance with its policies. Finally, a planning inspector examines the plan and how it was produced to ensure it is legally compliant and reflects the results of the consultations.
Who decides whether the NP should be adopted?
Ultimately the electorate. There will be a referendum of all voters in the parish on the final version of the NP. If more than 50% of those who vote approve it, all its policies will come into force.
What happens once the Neighbourhood Plan is approved?
When a planning application is received at EHC it will be consulted on and assessed just as it is now but there will be an extra step: checking that it is compliant with our NP. The final decision whether to approve or refuse the application will remain with EHC, as now. Applications can be rejected simply because they are not compliant with the NP, even if they meet all other planning requirements. The PC's will also be checking for compliance and, if not, will bring this to the attention of EHC as part of its public submission.
What happens if the NP is not approved by a residents’ referendum?
Fewer than 1% of the 850+ NPs that have been voted on across the country (to March 2020) have been rejected. This success rate arises because, if all the consultation processes have been followed, what emerges should be “the will of the people” – the referendum simply confirms this. In the extremely unlikely event of a “No” vote, the PC's will have to decide whether it wants to (and has the funds to) revise the NP, put it through all the regulatory consultations again and have another referendum. It is possible that, instead, EHC may itself decide which sites should be allocated for development and residents would have no say in this.