Neighbourhood Plan – FAQs

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Logo of the West Bergholt Neighbourhood Plan project
Logo of the West Bergholt Neighbourhood Plan project

Neighbourhood Plan – FAQs

Welcome to our FAQs page, we hope the following will answer any questions you may have about the Neighbourhood Plan project and why it is so important to our village.

What are Neighbourhood Plans?

Neighbourhood Plans were introduced by Government in the Localism Act 2011. They allow for communities to shape development in their area. Neighbourhood Plans will become part of the Borough, District or Unitary Local Development Plans and the policies contained within will be used in the determination of planning applications and types of development.

Who is producing the plan, and who is involved on the Steering Group?

Members of the Steering Group consist of a mixture of residents and Parish Councillors within West Bergholt who value the opportunity to have a say in the future shape and development of their village. The appointed Chairman is Chris Stevenson: [email protected] and the Communications Officer is Murray Harlow: [email protected]

At present there are around 20 members of the group roughly split into ten actively involved in preparing the plan with a further ten acting in a supporting role, reviewing ideas and acting as a sounding board.

Why should we consider a Neighbourhood Plan?

There are many reasons but the most obvious reason is that local people are often best placed to determine the extent, pace and location of any future development that may take place in our area. A full set of the reasons we are proposing a Neighbourhood Plan appear on these pages.

Who are the contacts for the Steering Group?

Chris Stevenson, Chairman: [antibot mailto=”[email protected]”]  or 01206 241708

Murray Harlow, Communications Officer: [antibot mailto=”[email protected]”] or 01206 242007

How long will it take to produce the plan?

Neighbourhood Plans take several years to complete. It takes so long because it is produced with frequent consultation with the community; its pace is determined by the involvement of local volunteers and their own commitments; there are statutory phases of the plan such as a formal endorsement of the plan area, an examination by an independent inspector and finally a referendum.  The latest timetable estimate for completion is late 2019 and the stages left for the plan are the statutory consultation ending in March followed by an examination by a government appointed inspector followed by a referendum – the dates for the last two stages have not been set yet.

What is the legal basis for the NP?

The Localism Act 2011 devolves power to communities to produce their own set of policies (also known as a statutory tool) in the form of Neighbourhood Plans.

Where can I read more?

There is much detail on the internet including information produced by the Rural Community Council for Essex (RCCE) – see RCCE Guide to Neighbourhood Planning. In addition, a truly inspirational guide has been produced by the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England entitled How to shape where you live. This is available by clicking how to shape where you live full guidance for the full downloadable guide and clicking how to shape where you live web guide for the web based version of the same guide.

What role has the Parish Council and Colchester Borough Council?

The legislation in the Localism Act stipulates that a Neighbourhood Plan must be the subject of a request to the local planning authority for permission to carry out a Neighbourhood Plan (in our case Colchester Borough Council) by a qualifying body. In our case the qualifying body is the Parish Council. West Bergholt is unusual in that there are local volunteers, Parish Councillors and District Councillors who have formed the steering group, rather than letting the Parish Council carry out the work. Once the area has been agreed by Colchester Borough Council, the plan can then be developed prior to the more formal stages of adoption. While the plan is being developed it is expected that Colchester Borough Council will take a keen interest in its assembly and will assist on a number of areas of work, notably those around housing needs assessment and technical appraisals such as the sustainability appraisal.

When will I be consulted?

The Neighbourhood Plan process provides numerous stages for consultation.  These range from questionnaires to identify existing issues and problems, through to feedback on the different draft proposals and then on the final Neighbourhood Plan Document.  And finally, following the independent examination, there is the referendum which enables you to cast your vote.

As the aim of the whole process is to seek the views and opinions from as wide a range of sources as possible, consultations will be undertaken not only with householders but through parish organisations and businesses.  Our NP has now been through several informal consultation stages and at the present time (Jan 2019) a statutory stage of consultation on the final draft is under way.

How do I get involved?

All members of the community are invited to become involved. For the vast majority this will be via the consultations that take place on the various stages of the plan as it is developed. However if you want to become involved with the work of the steering group there are two ways you can do this. Firstly you may become an active member helping to draft the plan or you may want to become part of the wider reference group of people who simply act as a sounding board when ideas, proposals, draft material etc is produced before this is put out for general consultation. Please contact either Chris Stevenson or Murray Harlow (see above contacts) if you want to become involved in any way.

Where can I see a completed plan?

Many Neighbourhood Plans now exist up and down the country, for a local example you should go to the NP pages of Colchester Borough Council. CBC website.

What is likely to be in the plan?

Whilst the plan is likely to include matters relating to housing, planning, transport, the environment, community amenities and commerce, the exact contents will be dependent on the results of the above consultations.

What is the Neighbourhood Plan Area and Village Envelope

In preparations for starting a Neighbourhood Plan the area defined by the plan had to be the subject of an application to Colchester Borough Council by the Parish Council. This was confirmed, and the West Bergholt Neighbourhood Plan area was confirmed as corresponding to the area contained within the existing parish boundary.

How do Neighbourhood Plans relate to the existing Parish Plan and Village Design Statement?

All three plans are examples of plans produced at a local level, resulting in published documents which have evolved by involving local people in making decisions for their future. They encourage and enable local people to play an active role in their community.

Neighbourhood Plans assess land use and infrastructure, set out policy on the development and use of land and become a development plan document

Parish Plans assess current and future issues and priorities which results in an action plan; overall, Parish Plans act as ‘business plans’ for the community. The current Parish Plan is still active and contains numerous projects which the community wish to see delivered.

Village Design Statements assess character, resulting in design guidelines which are used in the determination of planning applications. Our current VDS contains more than 30 policy areas which if adhered to by development ought to result in buildings which complement and respect the character of our village and other smaller settlement areas and hamlets in the wider parish area.

Consultation – how will we involve and engage you?

Please see our page on this site stating our commitment to you.

When have we consulted with the community to date:

Extensive consultations were carried out in 2006-20011 as part of the formation of a Parish plan and a Village Design statement. This consultation consisted of workshops, exhibitions, surveys and questionnaires and attending village events. The Parish Council also had standing items on these matters at each of its monthly meetings.

The Neighbourhood Plan processes started in 2012. Since that time, we have held the following events and carried out associated activities:

  • Formed a Steering Group through advertising and canvassing for members,
  • Held workshops with the community,
  • Carried out surveys into issues in 2013,
  • Held an issues and options consultation in 2015 with associated exhibitions, surveys and village meetings,
  • Held consultations in 2016 and 2017 on the final drafts of the Plan,
  • Have made the final version available to Colchester Borough Council as required by law, so that it can be consulted upon as a statutory planning document.

I’m worried about specific policies/plans/proposals in the Neighbourhood Plan. How can I make representations and who to:

One: In the initial stages but before the NP has been submitted to Colchester Borough Council

Initially you should address your concerns to the NP Steering Group Chair as proposals will normally stem from published material such as a consultation into possible things that should be included or excluded from the plan.  Alternatively, you may wish to come to a Steering Group meeting. If you are not sure then contact a Parish Councillor or a District Councillor who will take up your concerns with the Steering Group.

Subsequently the draft NP must be consulted upon for six weeks and you will have an opportunity to respond to a written draft. This is the stage the West Bergholt NP has reached.

Two: After the plan has been submitted to Colchester Borough Council

Once the NP has been submitted to Colchester Borough Council then it is in a period which will normally be referred to as “Statutory Consultation”. Colchester Borough Council will carry out its own 6 week consultation and will receive responses as the Local Planning Authority. The NP may then be amended. After this the NP passes to an Independent Planning Inspector who will take a view of the plan and may call for a public hearing. If this happens you may give evidence both for and against any proposals according to the terms of reference that the Inspector publishes. The Inspector will decide whether or not to hold such a public hearing normally referred to as an Examination in Public. After this a Referendum needs to be held. At this point all members of the community have a vote. If there is a majority in favour of agreeing the NP it passes into law.

Relationship with the local plan

Can neighbourhood plans be used to block development rather than promote it?

No. Neighbourhood planning is about shaping the development of a local area in a positive manner. It is not a tool to stop new development proposals from happening and should reflect local and national policies. Neighbourhood plans and orders should not promote less development than set out in the local plan or undermine its strategic policies

Can a neighbourhood plan promote more development than the local plan permits?

The NPPF makes explicit reference to the opportunity for neighbourhood plans to promote more development than is set out in the local plan.

Will a neighbourhood plan have ‘weight if it doesn’t finish the formal process?

Planning law requires that planning applications are decided in accordance with the local plan, unless material considerations indicate otherwise.  An emerging neighbourhood plan may be considered as a material consideration; this can depend on the stage the plan has reached and the level of consultation undertaken.  It is for the decision maker to determine the weight to give to these considerations.

Are existing parish plans and village design statements still valid?

Yes. All of these community led planning documents provide a good platform to undertaken neighbourhood planning. But they aren’t part of the statutory development plan for the area.

If a town/parish councils or forum has made a neighbourhood plan, do they then have decision making responsibilities for applications, appeals, enforcement etc?

No. Decision making remains with the local planning authority.

Will the duty to co-operate apply to qualifying bodies for neighbourhood plans?

No – the duty applies to local planning authorities, county councils and other public bodies, working on strategic, cross-boundary matters delivered through the Local plan. However authorities are expected to work collaboratively when dealing with cross-boundary neighbourhood proposals, either through formal or informal arrangements.

Can planning applications be judged as premature in relation to an emerging neighbourhood plan?

Planning applications are decided in accordance with the local plan, unless material considerations indicate otherwise.  An emerging neighbourhood plan may be considered as a material consideration,  depending on the stage the plan has reached and the level of
consultation undertaken. It is for the decision maker to determine the weight to give to these considerations.

Commentary on experience with NPs is contained within the recent National Association of Local Councils report available via the link below:

How does the presumption in favour of sustainable development relate to a neighbourhood plan?

The presumption in favour of sustainable development is principally a means of ensuring that plans, both local and neighbourhood, are positively prepared to achieve the best social, economic and environmental outcomes for an area. Neighbourhood plans need to have appropriate regard to this national policy. The presumption makes clear that planning applications which are in line with local plans and neighbourhood plans should normally be approved. This should be a strong incentive to put local and neighbourhood plans in place.

Process for preparing neighbourhood plans and orders

Do ward councillors have to be involved in any neighbourhood planning for their area?

It is advisable and expected. Experience from the neighbourhood planning front runners is that where local elected members are involved they play a key role and can help progress the work significantly – giving it profile with the community and within the wider council and helping to access resources for the work.

Can the six weeks the qualifying body must allow for representations on the first draft proposal and the six weeks the LPA must allow for representations on the plan proposal be run in parallel?

No – the regulations require six weeks consultation by the qualifying body on a draft plan or order proposal before submission. The responses to the consultation then have to be thought about and the plan amended where appropriate. The local planning authority must then publicise the submitted proposal for another six weeks and invite representations.

When do local planning authorities check the neighbourhood plans: prior to the examination or following the inspectors’ report?

Before the examination, the local planning authority has to check that the submitted plan/order is legally compliant, i.e. the procedural steps have been followed. The authority doesn’t have to check whether the plan/order proposal meets the basic conditions until after the examination report has been received.

The examiner’s report is not legally binding, but the authority must have clear reasons for departing from any of the examiner’s recommendations.

After a successful referendum, the local planning authority should check the document is still compliant with EU and European Convention of Human Rights law, before the neighbourhood plan or order is made.

Who will draft the policies in a neighbourhood plan – can neighbourhoods do it?  Will they be robust enough for development management purposes?

It is the responsibility of the parish council or neighbourhood forum to prepare any neighbourhood plan or order. They could write the plan policies themselves, or they could get help or ask another group to do it, but they are responsible for it. Advising on the policies in a neighbourhood plan is one of the ways a LPA can help support neighbourhood planning work e.g. some LPAs are asking their DM teams to look at the policies in emerging neighbourhood plans to see if they could use them.

A guide to writing planning policies is available on the MyCommunity website.

Can a neighbourhood plan include areas outside of the development envelope on exception sites?

In principle, this is possible, but the plan must meet the basic conditions such as its fit with local and national policy and compliance with EU law.

More detail van be found by visiting https://www.gov.uk/guidance/neighbourhood-planning–2

How will any possible conflicts with landowners be managed including where the land owner does not want development and vice-versa?

Land owners are key members of the community and should be engaged in the neighbourhood planning process to help in the development of a plan or order. Early engagement at an early stage can help overcome possible conflicts.

Anecdotally there is concern among groups about working with landowners, their role in the process and possible conflict of interest.  Involving landowners is far more beneficial than not. From their own development management experiences LPAs are well placed to advise on managing this form of engagement, helping to develop practice and protocols and to ensure that the process is transparent to all.

Evidence

Who will be ensuring that the neighbourhood plans are viable and deliverable?

Neighbourhood plans need to be aspirational but they also need to be realistic and deliverable. Ultimately this is down to the qualifying bodies but it’s in no ones interest if a plan is prepared that is not deliverable.  As part of your support to neighbourhood plan makers you could share the viability assessment undertaken as part of your local plan work with parish councils and neighbourhood forums as a starting point for their own plans.

What role do neighbourhood plans have in meeting Objectively Assessed Housing Need?

Neighbourhood Plans should support the strategic development needs set out in Local Plans, including policies for housing which will have been informed by the area’s Objectively Assessed Housing Need.

Where local planning authorities are in the process of preparing their Local Plan and collecting data on housing need it will be important for the neighbourhood planning groups and local authorities to work together and share evidence in order to develop consistent plans.

Strategic environmental assessments/sustainability appraisals

What role does the LPA have in the Strategic Environmental Assessment?

It is the responsibility of the local planning authority to ensure that all the regulations appropriate to the nature and scope of a neighbourhood plan proposal submitted to it have been met in order for the proposal to progress. The local planning authority must decide whether the neighbourhood plan proposal is compatible with EU obligations (including obligations under the Strategic Environmental Assessment Directive):

  • when it takes the decision on whether the neighbourhood plan should proceed to referendum; and
  • when it takes the decision on whether or not to make the neighbourhood plan (which brings it into legal force).

The local planning authority should discuss the steps that the qualifying body needs to take and what needs to be produced in order to comply with the Environmental Assessment of Plans and Programmes Regulations 2004 as part of meeting its duty to advise or assist the qualifying body with neighbourhood planning.

The local planning authority should consider what further assistance it can provide to help a qualifying body comply with the regulations, for example making available information and evidence that may help a qualifying body that is preparing the environmental report where one is required.

When is the best time to undertake Strategic Environmental Assessment screening?

A Strategic Environmental Assessment screening should be undertaken as soon as sufficient information on its potential environmental effects are known. As a minimum the aims of the plan, a list of potential policies and whether the plan intends to allocates sites is likely to be required. Our NP has undertaken such an appraisal and details are available on the Colchester Borough Council link below:

https://www.colchester.gov.uk/info/cbc-article/?catid=neighbourhood-planning&id=KA-02475

Referendums

Can second home owners vote?

A person is entitled to vote if at the time of the referendum, they meet the eligibility criteria to vote in a local election for the area and if they live in the referendum area.

What is the threshold for the number of people to vote in a referendum?

There is no minimum turnout figure.

Why is the referendum so late in the process – better to do it before the examination – and help reduce time, effort and costs?

Having a referendum at the end of the process ensures communities have the final say on whether a neighbourhood development plan or order comes into force in their area.

When should LPAs start thinking about the referendum?

It is important to establish early dialogue with the electoral service team within the Local Authority (note, if you are a National Park, this will be another Local Authority) to identify and build into your project planning the lead in times and management arrangements for the carrying out of the referendum.  You will also want to understand at the area application stage, the electoral implications of a particular designated neighbourhood area boundary (e.g. does it align with existing electoral administrative areas).

The arrangements for referendums are tightly prescribed in the legislation, for example the timetable within which certain activities must be undertaken is set and needs to be included in project programmes for the delivery of Neighbourhood Development Plans.

You will also need to talk to electoral colleagues to understand what neighbourhood planning may mean for the practical administration of the poll.  For example, the boundaries for the referendum area, may be different to ‘established’ polling districts, especially in non-parished areas.  This might mean that new polling places need to be identified.Adequate time therefore needs to be allowed for coordinating the referendum.

What is the life time of neighbourhood plans and development orders?

There are no specified time limits for neighbourhood plans or orders; this will be decided by the community and this must be specified on the plan or order.

Funding and resources

What are the overall costs of a neighbourhood plan likely to be?

Although the costs of the examination and the referendum will be the responsibility of the council, most of the costs involved in preparing a neighbourhood plan will fall to the community.  The extent to which the advice and assistance of the local planning authority will be able to reduce the costs to the community is likely to depend on the extent to which the council can help with the evidence base.  In this context it is important that an understanding of the support available from the council is discussed an agreed at an early stage. It is up to the council to consider how much advice and assistance it will be able to resource to help the communities in their area.

In their guide to neighbourhood plans, Locality discuss both the financial costs as well as costs in terms of energy and time for communities.  This will depend on the type of neighbourhood plan or order being prepared. Some focused on specific issues, for example density issues or housing for older people or rural diversification. Others are akin to mini-local plans. The cost of preparing a plan will vary accordingly depending on the neighbourhood area itself and the complexity and scope of the proposed plan and the capacity of the local group to undertake the work themselves. Having worked to support many community groups, the advice of this group on costs will be valuable for communities at the early stages of considering neighbourhood planning.

Groups should also be encouraged to consider other resources, for example planning students from University College London and Oxford Brookes University now support local neighbourhood planning groups as part of a university module.  Other students, such as marketing, graphic and design might also be able to help in the production of plans.

http://mycommunity.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/Roadmap-worksheets-map-May-13.pdf

Other community rights

How do neighbourhood plans and community right to build (CrTB) relate to the new proposals for the community register of land of community value?

Groups preparing a neighbourhood plan could take the opportunity to consider the management of community assets using the new powers available under the new community rights powers. Legally these are two separate process, but it could be useful for the community to consider both together.