First Published on 14 March 2014 by Gary Kirk
It has been a year since the first neighbourhood plan was approved and hundreds more are in progress. Gary Kirk looks at the key issues they are looking to address.
The Upper Eden neighbourhood development plan was approved at referendum on 7 March 2013 by a majority of more than 90 per cent and with a turnout of 34 per cent.
This marked the formal introduction of a new tier of local planning known as "neighbourhood planning", brought about by the Localism Act of 2011 and representing the transfer of some planning powers from local planning authorities to neighbourhoods.
Twelve months on and seven neighbourhood plans have come into force following successful referendums, and 14 have passed the independent examination stage.
A further 850 are in various stages of progress throughout the country. Neighbourhood planning appears to be here to stay - but which policies are being seen as important to the local communities?
A review of the policies contained within the neighbourhood plans that have been "made" or passed independent examination demonstrates a wide range of issues being tackled.
Many plans identify specific sites of local importance because of character and location, and highlight them as areas to be protected from development.
Some (including Broughton Astley, Ascot, Sunninghill and Sunningdale) support "green corridors" to ensure areas of separation between villages. Others resist developments that would reduce the gap between villages or look to provide walkways and cycle routes to link up open spaces.
The need to retain features of high conservation or landscape value is specified in the Much Wenlock neighbourhood plan. The Exeter St James plan states that developments resulting in the loss of biodiversity will not be permitted unless this loss is compensated for in ways that bring a net enhancement overall.
A large number of plans include measures to tackle the topical issue of flood risk. Thame requires all developments in flood risk areas to incorporate sustainable urban drainage systems, whilst Much
Wenlock specifies the need for all new dwellings to have a predicted water discharge of no more than 80 litres per person per day. Others more generally reference the need for construction materials to minimise energy and water use.
As you would expect, all the plans contain policies that seek to shape and guide future housing development. Many identify the preferred locations for development, mainly for housing but also for other forms of building. The Broughton Astley plan, for example, identifies the need for a large retail facility to reduce car journeys to out-of-town shopping centres.Some plans have included reserve housing sites as a safety net to guard against delivery problems arising in the future, while others (such as Lynton and Lynmouth) say previously developed sites are
the preferred locations for development.
The Cringleford plan applies restrictions on the sub-division of gardens to release development sites, whilst also securing the protection of specific hedgerows. Housing growth numbers for the Cringleford area have been negotiated with the local planning authority and sites identified to meet this need. The Upper Eden document sets yearly rates for development across the plan period, in part to prevent over-development.
Some plans make reference to acceptable densities. The Cringleford plan stipulates a maximum of 25 homes per hectare, and also specifies the type of housing that will be permitted (mainly detached or semi-detached). The Woodcote plan specifies mainly terraced or semi-detached homes on all developments of over nine units. It also specifies the percentage of new housing that should be made up of properties with respectively one, two, three or four or more bedrooms.
Most plans contain specific policies on affordable housing, whether in terms of concentration (the Much Wenlock plan restricts grouping of affordable homes to fewer than ten within a single scheme,
while the Cringleford document requires it to be dispersed throughout the village), preferential access for local people (the Lynton and Lynmouth plan prioritises applicants who have been continually resident within the neighbourhood for ten years, or who will be supporting someone who meets that criteria) and size.
The Lynton and Lynmouth plan, for example, requires new affordable housing in owner-occupation to have net internal floorspace of no more than 90 square metres, on the basis that affordability can be achieved by limiting the size of the property and to ensure that smaller starter-homes are provided for first time buyers. Several plans also make specific provision for the needs of older residents. The Kirdford plan requires all development that involves more than four units to address
the needs of older residents, whilst the Rolleston on Dove plan states that up to 50 per cent of new dwellings should be appropriate for occupation by older people.
Lynton and Lynmouth, a popular tourist area, requires a restriction on new residential dwellings to ensure each is used as a principle residence, whilst also allowing temporary housing for seasonal
workers through extension to existing premises or conversion. The Upper Eden neighbourhood plan allows applications for additional housing for farm workers in rural communities to be permitted in
Measures include encouraging combined living and employment space (Cringleford); allowing business development that reflects the scale and size of the surrounding area (Tattenhall); supporting new retail outlets on the basis that they complement existing provision (Much Wenlock);
resisting change of use away from employment activities (Cringleford); and setting criteria for the reinstatement of a railway if feasible, viable and incorporating a means of accessing the town centre (Lynton and Lynmouth).
The need to support the existing town centre rather than create an alternative is stressed by the Thame plan. It and others stipulate that redundant employment sites should only switch to noneconomic
use if proven to be no longer economically viable. The Exeter St James plan specifically encourages the development of small scale social enterprise.
Many plans seek to secure developer contributions through section 106 agreements for community infrastructure such as new schools, medical facilities; playing fields and libraries.Several plans highlight the need for improved broadband access. The Upper Eden plan seeks better provision for existing residents, while the Woodcote document specifies that ducting should be used on cabling to enable fibre optic cables from different suppliers to be provided in the future.
Some make general statements about the need to enhance quality of life, promote equality and diversity and strengthen community cohesion, while others specify particular needs such as space for allotments and a community orchard (Cringleford), improved toilets (Much Wenlock) and
supporting development that promotes a healthy lifestyle (Sprowston).
Some plans take the opportunity to protect community facilities such as pubs by resisting their loss through change of use or re-development. The Lynton and Lynmouth document is an example of plans which protect assets of community value in this way.
Reference is made on many occasions to the need to reduce congestion by various methods: providing off street parking (Woodcote), protecting existing car parks, re-routing HGVs away from the local road network (Much Wenlock) and seeking developer contributions for specific measures (such as Cringleford looking to meet the cost of a specific interchange).
One plan (Thame) encourages a "shared-space" concept, under which road markings and signage are reduced to encourage motorists, cyclists and pedestrians to take more responsibility for each others' safety, and another (Cringleford) seeks specific cycle and walking routes to minimise the use of cars.
Neighbourhood plans have taken the opportunity to set design standards and highlight features seen to be important locally.
Some require incorporation of energy efficiency systems, although the Rolleston on Dove plan states that these should not be visible and the Norland plan requires them to be "discreetly located". The
Thame plan specifies a range of items that need to be considered early in the design process and integrated into the overall scheme, including bin stores and recycling facilities.
This plan also encourages parking spaces to be located between houses rather than in front, to avoid dominating the street scene, whilst Rolleston on Dove limits new development to two storeys. The
Norland plan requires outbuildings to be limited to one storey.
A number of plans say new housing needs to demonstrate good quality design and integrate with surroundings in terms of plot widths, scale and character. Many stipulate materials to be used (the Rolleston on Dove plan states buildings are to be either built of brick or rendered with tiled roofs).
The Cringleford plan goes further by establishing the Royal Institute of British Architects' Case for Space standards as a minimum.
Neighbourhood planning is still at an early stage of development, and whilst all the plans highlighted above have been endorsed by their local planning department and have been through an independent examination process, some of the policies (and the relative weighting attached to them) have yet to be tested at appeal or through the courts.
But they do show the potential of the new system to address neighbourhood issues in much greater depth than core strategies or local plans would be able to. The system enables decisions to be taken
at the level closest to the community who will live with the consequences, and the process of developing the plans themselves helps to build capacity and cohesion, which are outcomes which we are all seeking to achieve.
Gary Kirk is a member of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors' neighbourhood planning independent examiner referral service; a parish councillor and lead consultant with YourLocale, an organisation which supports groups undertaking neighbourhood plans.