NEIGHBOURHOOD PLANNING – INTRODUCTION
The Localism Act 2011 introduced new procedures which gave local communities in England powers to have meaningful involvement in the planning of their area.
Neighbourhood Planning is led by local, ‘Qualifying Bodies’ such as Parish and Town Councils or, where these do not exist, newly formed ‘Neighbourhood Forums’.
They can do this using a variety of new mechanisms, including:
- Neighbourhood Plans
- Neighbourhood Development Orders
- Community Right to Build Orders
Neighbourhood planning is about letting the people who know about and care for an area plan for it. When introducing regulations under the Localism Act, the government was keen to stress that Neighbourhood Planning should be a process led by the residential and business community in an area, and not the District or Borough council. The emphasis is on building neighbourhoods and should not be seen as a process that would stifle growth.
In practice, through the local plan process, District and Borough Councils still maintain strategic control over where development within their areas is directed. However, under the right circumstances, neighbourhood planning can have a meaningful influence on the local aspects of new development.
Neighbourhood planning is optional and take up varies by area across the country. When adopted, neighbourhood plans and orders have weight as part of the legal development plan for the area.
Neighbourhood Forums are bodies (in England only) which can be set up to prepare neighbourhood plans or orders in areas where there is no existing Parish or Town council in place.
There can only be one forum per neighbourhood area and the boundaries must be proposed by a community group and agreed by the Local Planning Authority.
A Forum has to have a minimum membership of 21, be open to residents and businesses, and be representative of all members of the local community. In practice, this can lead to an initial period of conflict between competing groups in terms of leadership and ownership of a forum. It is therefore up to local planning authorities to ensure that the forum meets the criteria set down in terms of representation.
Businesses, investors, developers and other commercial organisations are able to get involved with forums or parishes and businesses are able to provide sponsorship.
NEIGHBOURHOOD FORUMS – DEFINING THE NEIGHBOURHOOD
In the first instance and before preparing their policies, a town or parish council or a neighbourhood forum must apply to their local planning authority to designate an area (boundaries) for their neighbourhood plan.
There must be a minimum period of six weeks of public consultation on the extent of the proposed neighbourhood area before the LPA can formally confirm designation.
The local authority must ensure that proposed neighbourhood plan areas are coherent, consistent and appropriate in planning terms.
Unless there are valid planning reasons not to do so, the LPA will designate the proposed neighbourhood plan area following the consultation. However, if the LPA considers that the area proposed is not appropriate it must issue a refusal notice, explaining why, and designate a revised plan area to include some or all of the originally proposed area.
To support their role in neighbourhood planning, when an LPA adopts a Neighbourhood Plan, they can claim £30,000 back from central government as a contribution towards the costs they will have incurred.
By preparing Neighbourhood Plans, communities in England are able to establish general planning policies for development and land use in their area. They are a way for local people to work together and set out a vision for their area, supported by their local authority.
Using neighbourhood plans, communities are able to determine where new homes and employment is to be built in their area, and set policies to outline what new development might look like. When adopted, Neighbourhood Plans become part of the formal ‘Development Plan’ for the area – the starting point for the determination of planning applications. Decisions on development proposals will thereafter be made in accordance with the Plan, unless material considerations indicate otherwise.
A neighbourhood plan can be a powerful tool, but may not be right for every community. Depending upon objectives, there may be other types of plan that are more suited to meeting the needs of a neighbourhood, including:
- Parish/Town Plans
- Village /Neighbourhood Design Statements
- Conservation Area Appraisals
- Local design guide
- Community led action plans
- Vision statement
NEIGHBOURHOOD PLANS – PROCESS
As with any plan prepared in England, it can take a significant amount and time, effort and money to progress a neighbourhood plan to adoption. From start to finish the process is likely to take 2- 3 years depending on the issues and complexity of the plan and the level of objections raised against it.
The policies of a neighbourhood plan need to be passed by referendum. Extensive engagement is needed with local stakeholders throughout the process of preparation. Consultation should include the following:
- Residents (including those who rarely get involved in planning/community matters)
- Elected representatives
- Community organisations
- Voluntary organisations
- Special interest/amenity groups
- Emergency Services and other service providers
- Health practitioners
The local authority has a key role to play in supporting parish, town councils and neighbourhood forums prepare their neighbourhood plans. They also have a legal role to play at key stages of the process, including making sure that any policies and proposals are legally robust.
CONTENT OF A NEIGHBOURHOOD PLAN
Communities cannot use neighbourhood plans to block development that is identified in the local plan for their area. What they can do is shape and influence where development might go and what it might look like.
EXAMINATION OF NEIGHBOURHOOD PLANS AND ORDERS
Once a neighbourhood plan or order has been prepared, an Independent Examiner will review the proposed document to ensure conformity with national, strategic and local plan policy.
An ‘Independent Examiner’ can be anyone with appropriate qualifications and skills who meet certain requirements as set out in the Localism Act 2011. This could be a planning consultant or other planning professional, an employee of another local authority or a planning inspector.
It is the responsibility of the local planning authority to appoint an Independent Examiner, with the consent of the parish council or neighbourhood forum and to arrange and pay for the examination and subsequent referendum.
All those affected by proposals in a neighbourhood plan will have the opportunity to make representations to the Independent Examiner. It is expected that examinations will be held using the written representations procedure. However Examiners will have the ability (and a duty) to hear oral representations, where necessary, to ensure adequate examination of issues or to ensure all have a fair chance to put a case.
If the Examiner finds that the plan doesn’t meet the necessary requirements, changes will be recommended. The planning authority will then consider the Examiners views and decide whether to make changes. An Examiner’s report is not legally binding but the LPA should have clear reasoning for departing from an Examiner’s recommendations.
If the Examiner recommends significant changes, then the parish or town council or neighbourhood forum may decide to consult the local community again before proceeding to adoption.
NEIGHBOURHOOD PLANS – LOCAL REFERENDUM
The local council will organise a referendum on any plan or Order that meets the basic standards. This ensures that the community has the final say on whether a neighbourhood plan or order comes into force.
People living in the neighbourhood who are registered to vote in local elections will be entitled to vote in the referendum.
In some special cases – where, for example, the proposals put forward in a plan for one neighbourhood have significant implications for other people nearby – people from other neighbourhoods may be allowed to vote too.
If more than 50 per cent of people voting in the referendum support the plan or order, then the local planning authority must bring it into force.
NEIGHBOURHOOD DEVELOPMENT ORDERS
With a neighbourhood development order a parish, town council or neighbourhood forum can grant planning permission for new buildings in their area. Neighbourhood development orders allow new homes and other buildings to be built without the developers having to apply for separate planning permission. A neighbourhood order can therefore make it significantly easier for popular development to go ahead.
The process of preparing and examining a neighbourhood development order is very similar to that required for a neighbourhood plan. They can apply to all or part of a neighbourhood area and can be included as part of a neighbourhood plan, but can also be brought forward separately.
COMMUNITY RIGHT TO BUILD ORDERS
A Community Right to Build Order gives permission for small-scale, site-specific developments by a community group. The process for preparation, examination and adoption of a CRB Order is very similar to that required for a Neighbourhood Plan or Neighbourhood Development Order.
The Levelling Up and Regeneration Act 2023 introduced a new development order called a ‘street vote development order’, which residents can apply for in relation to their own streets or neighbourhoods to set out specified types of development that can be carried out in the area without the need to apply for planning permission.
The intention is that a street vote development order will need to be approved by way of a referendum similar to how neighbourhood plans are approved locally currently.
The introduction of street votes will require secondary legislation before being enacted.
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