Ten reasons for not doing a Neighbourhood Plan….

Neighbourhood Planning? That’s just the latest fad. It won’t last! We should stick with what we know. The system isn’t perfect, but why commit to doing something that will cost the Parish a lot of money and time and not result in any meaningful change? We should continue to respond to planning applications as they come in on a case by case basis. It’ll all blow over and settle down again – won’t it?

Many Parish and Town Councils (or Neighbourhood Forums) have embarked on a journey to prepare a Neighbourhood Plan. But with over 8,000 Parish and Town Councils across England, there are still a large number yet to take the plunge.

Why is this?

It seems that there are still a large number of myths parading as facts that are impacting on decisions as to whether or not to undertake a Neighbourhood Plan. Let’s have a look at some of these in greater detail and reveal the truth hidden behind the fiction.

  1. We don’t need a Neighbourhood Plan – the Local Planning Authority will protect our interests.

 This is simply not the case. Local Planning Authorities (LPAs) have housing growth targets to meet across the whole District or Borough. Planning Applications will be determined in accordance with Authority-wide policies rather than local circumstances. In these situations, local objections to a higher proportion of development than is reasonable will fall on deaf ears where applications meet very general strategic policies. Even in areas where the LPA is sympathetic to the needs of neighbourhoods, their strategic policies will be classed as ‘out of date’ if they fail to demonstrate a five year land supply for housing growth. In these circumstances, it is highly likely that applications that are refused by the LPA will be overturned on appeal as the Inspector will take the view that the lack of a five-year land supply trumps local objections. Unless harm can be demonstrated. So even if the LPA does look after the interests of the Parish it can be powerless to prevent development that neither party wants! Only in areas with a Neighbourhood Plan will protection of key sites apply as the Secretary of State has determined that appropriate allocations within a Neighbourhood Plan outweigh the lack of a five-year land supply, and parishes with a neighbourhood plan which allocate housing for development only have tom demonstrate a three-year land supply for the policies to count.

  1. We can’t afford it!

The cost of producing a Neighbourhood Plan varies from area to area depending on the size of the Parish and the scope of the Plan.  However, funding is currently available to meet substantial costs relating to the production of the Plan. The LPA will also receive funding from the Government to meet its statutory obligations to support the production of the Plan (Officer time; map printing etc.) as well as funding the Independent Examination and Referendum. Grant funding is also currently available to the Parish and in many cases will meet the bulk of the costs of producing the Neighbourhood Plan. A new three-year funding round has been confirmed, starting April 2018 and other funding sources are available.

Any Parish with a Neighbourhood Plan will also gain a bigger share of the Community Infrastructure Levy monies, once introduced by LPAs.

  1. We don’t have the time!

It is true that Neighbourhood Planning should not be undertaken without an awareness of the time implications for Parish and Town Councillors, the Clerk and the wider community. Many Qualifying Bodies have taken the opportunity to broaden the range of involvement to establish an Advisory Committee to help share the workload. By including a wider representation of the community this has strengthened the democratic processes. There IS additional work; but funding is available to ease this through the provision of professional support and groups are able to go at their own pace – there is no deadline for the completion of the Neighbourhood Plan other than those set internally.

  1. We already have a Village Design Statement/Parish Plan and no one takes any notice of that! Why should this be any different?

The Parish Plan and Village Design Statements are different documents to the Neighbourhood Plan which carries legal force which generally the other documents do not. The Neighbourhood Plan, once ‘Made’ becomes part of the local Development Plan which means that it carries statutory weight. It cannot therefore be put to one side when planning decisions are made, indeed, it will be a key reference source.

  1. Any favourable decisions will be overturned on appeal – they always are!

Neighbourhood Planning is still at an early stage in its development. However, there is mounting evidence that what a Neighbourhood Plan says is a very important consideration in determining a planning application and this has been reinforced by the Government. Indeed there have been cases where the Secretary of State has overturned the recommendations of his own inspectors where he considers that too little attention has been paid to the policies contained in the Neighbourhood Plan. The Neighbourhood Plan therefore affords a level of protection that is not otherwise available.

  1. Political commitment will change. It’s a short term fix.

The Government has reaffirmed its commitment to Neighbourhood Planning through the announcement of the three-year funding round commencing in April 2018. There is crossparty support for Neighbourhood Planning, and the Chief Planning Officer has spoken about Ministers believing that Neighbourhood Planning is ‘the bedrock of the future planning system’ and urged communities to become involved.

  1. On announcing that we are doing a Neighbourhood Plan we would be vulnerable to fast-tracked planning applications before the Neighbourhood Plan gained sufficient weight to influence the decision.

This may be true – but this is a reason for taking the decision to do a Neighbourhood Plan sooner rather than not doing one at all! Neighbourhood Plans should not be undertaken with the purpose of preventing development and they will not be able to influence applications already in the system.

  1. It’s easier to stay as we are – we want things to stay the same! Things will not stay the same!

As more and more Parishes undertake Neighbourhood Plans and determine for themselves planning policies such as which sites to develop and which locally important open spaces to protect, so there will be increased pressure on those areas which rely on District or Borough wide policies to make decisions on planning applications. Tensions can arise as key decisions are made, but the overwhelming experience is of communities being brought together rather than being torn apart.

  1. There isn’t a relationship between landowners, developers and the Parish Council. It just won’t work!

Neighbourhood Plans provide a structure through which negotiations can take place between a range of stakeholders. It is in everyone’s interest to be involved in the process and experience suggests that people chose to do so. The Neighbourhood Plan can become the framework within which better and improved communication takes place which can have long term and lasting benefits.

  1. There is no development pressure in our area.

The Neighbourhood Plan can cover much more than just shaping the development of new housing. As well as determining where new housing goes it can also require design features to be incorporated; impact on the type and size of new homes; protect community assets for future use; safeguard play areas and open space from development and make policies relating to business use in an area. If you have a village design statement already, this can be updated and incorporated into the Neighbourhood Plan giving it greater statutory force. There is a lot that Neighbourhood Planning can do. The specific content will vary from area to area – but what it does do is reflect local aspirations on a wide range of issues. It is a ‘bottomup’ process that starts and ends with the communities covered by the Plan and as such has a number of significant advantages over existing Core Strategies and emerging Local Plans. The Statutory weight given to Neighbourhood Plans mean that it is the best way for local views to be comprehensively represented in the decision-making process when planning applications are being considered. There is a significant momentum growing around Neighbourhood Planning and all the signs are that it is a movement that is here to stay. Now is the time to get on board. What have you got to lose?

Gary Kirk

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