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Neighbourhood Plans enable communities to take the lead in producing part of the statutory development plan for the area. Crucially, unlike a parish plan, these Neighbourhood Plans must be used to determine planning applications in a neighbourhood area. It can represent a serious commitment and any group of people considering preparing a Neighbourhood Plan will need to carefully weigh the opportunities against the time/cost implications and come to a balanced view. This is where the fexibility of neighbourhood planning to adapt to time/resource considerations is important. Obviously, a simpler plan with few policies will have less resource implications than a more comprehensive and complex one. Possible sources of help should be identifed e.g. the local authority through its duty to support.

Considerations may include what other tools can be used to deliver the community’s ambitions, the adequacy of existing local policies, skills available and alternative use of resources, such as delivering existing parish or community plans.

Effective project planning is important to successful neighbourhood planning. A project plan can identify key stages, actions, an indicative timetable, and available resources and costs. The plan could also allocate responsibilities for coordinating different aspects of the process. 

Step 1 - Designation of neighbourhood area

The first formal step in neighbourhood planning is the submission of the proposed neighbourhood area to the local planning authority for designation. The following must be submitted in the area application:

  • a map identifying the proposed neighbourhood area
  • a statement explaining why the area is appropriate to be designated as a neighbourhood area
  • a statement explaining that the body making the area application (the parish or town council or prospective neighbourhood forum) is capable of being a qualifying body. 

Step 2 - Qualifying Bodies

Where there is a town or parish council, then that is the qualifying body for leading a Neighbourhood Plan in a designated neighbourhood area that includes all or part of the council’s area.  

Step 3 - Support​

Once the neighbourhood area is designated by the local planning authority, that authority is legally required to provide advice and assistance to those bodies producing a Neighbourhood Plan in its area. This ‘duty to support’ could include things like:

  • making existing data and maps available for the evidence base
  • identifying key local strategic policies from the Local Plan
  • advising on relevant national policies/guidance
  • sharing information on key contacts, stakeholders and best practice plan-making activity making available venues and helping to arrange community engagement activities, checking the plan prior to formal submission to give community confidence
  • providing technical support, such as assistance in laying out and illustrating a plan and writing plan policies
  • providing members for neighbourhood forums or more informal working groups, setting up a neighbourhood planning web page on the local authority’s website. 

Step 4 - Building the Evidence Base

Planning policy and proposals need to be based on a proper understanding of the place they relate to, if they are to be relevant, realistic and to address local issues effectively. It is therefore important that Neighbourhood Plans are based on robust information and analysis of the local area; this is called the evidence base.

A review of existing evidence should be undertaken – particularly as there is already lots of evidence for planning. This may include things like:

  • the evidence under-pinning the Local Plan
  • socio-economic data for district/ward (census, ONS, etc.)
  • technical reports (e.g. retail studies)
  • transport studies and public transport data
  • mapping of local area
  • conservation area appraisals and statutory lists (listed buildings, historic environment recordand scheduled ancient monuments)
  • details of environmental protection designations, such as tree preservation orders and sitesof special scientific interest
  • plans from other public bodies or statutory undertakers
  • existing plans for an area, such as a community plan or parish plan. 

It may be necessary to develop new evidence (or update existing evidence) at neighbourhood level. This could include:

  • Economic: business surveys, viability, vacancy/floorspace survey, available sites survey, land values, employment need survey, etc.
  • Social/Community: housing condition survey, housing needs survey, audit of community facilities, ‘Building for Life’ assessment of housing, etc.
  • Environmental: heritage audit, conservation area appraisals, review of local lists, urban design analysis, open space survey & analysis, etc.
  • Infrastructure: transport linkages, schools capacity, transport capacity analysis, traffic/ pedestrian flow surveys, etc.

Step 5 - Community Engagement

Community engagement is necessary and important for several reasons. It is a requirement of planning legislation including for Neighbourhood Plans. It is essential in developing consensus and creating community support. Finding out what people think and drawing on their skills and knowledge is an important part of developing the evidence base for an area and developing the Neighbourhood Plan, leading to more realistic and deliverable plans and policies. Failure to engage communities properly at an early stage is one of the main causes of conflict later in the planning process. This can lead to additional costs and delays.

The referendum will involve a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ vote on the Neighbourhood Plan. Properly engaging people from the beginning of the process ensures that there is an opportunity to influence the detail of the Neighbourhood Plan, rather than just having the option to accept or reject the whole plan.

Where intensive community engagement has recently been undertaken, such as in respect of the community plan, the material obtained will be useful in informing the Neighbourhood Plan. 

Step 6 - Drafting the Plan

There is considerable flexibility over how a plan is structured and written. 

Careful consideration should be made of how the plan will be delivered and this will require constructive dialogue with key stakeholders, such as development managers in the local authority, public agencies, landowners and developers. 

The following are suggestions for possible content of the plan:

  • Vision and Aims. The Neighbourhood Plan can set out the community’s overall vision for the area and should include overall aims for its future development and growth. These can relate to a wide range of planning and regeneration matters – social, economic and environmental. The vision and aims of the plan can then be translated into detailed policies, guidance and proposals.
  • Planning Policies. A Neighbourhood Plan, once made, will form part of the statutory local development plan for the area and its policies will be used to determine development proposals in the neighbourhood. Planning applications will be determined in accordance with the Neighbourhood Plan’s policies unless material considerations indicate otherwise. The policies in the plan could be supplemented if necessary by explanatory text or illustrations to help with their interpretation.
  • Site Allocations. The Neighbourhood Plan may identify key sites for specific kinds of development, such as housing, retail, employment or mixed use.
  • Community Proposals. Regeneration or enhancement proposals relating to the use and development of land could be included in the plan. For example, it could include policies around improving key public spaces and pedestrian links or allocate sites for new community facilities, such as a community centre.