It is a legal requirement that the proposed Neighbourhood Plan is publicised and the subject of public consultation, before it is submitted to the local planning authority.
- publicising the plan in a manner which brings it to the attention of people who live, work or run businesses in the neighbourhood area. This should include details of the proposed Neighbourhood Plan, details of where and when it may be viewed (e.g. local fairs, schools, etc.), details on how to make comments on the plan and the date by which comments must be received (at least six weeks from the date on which it is first publicised)consulting bodies whose interests may be affected by the plan. The local council should be able to advise on this, but it is likely to include the county council, the Environment Agency, Natural England and English Heritage
- sending a copy of the proposed plan to the local authority
- consulting any neighbouring local, town or parish councils, significant landowners, local businesses and local community organisations, such as chambers of commerce, civic societies and local trusts.
It may be useful to produce a concise summary of the plan for those that don’t wish to read the full document.
A brief report must be produced, summarising comments received, issues raised by those comments and describing if and how the plan has been modifed in response to the issues raised. This is known as the ‘consultation statement’ which is a legal requirement for all Neighbourhood Plans.
Submitting the Plan
Following any amendments resulting from the pre-submission consultation stage, the proposed Neighbourhood Plan should be submitted to the local planning authority by the qualifying body. The local authority is responsible for publicising the plan that has been submitted to them and arranging for the independent examination and referendum to take place into that submitted plan.
The submission to the local planning authority must include the following:
- a map or statement, which identifes the area to which the plan relates
- a consultation statement (see below)
- the proposed Neighbourhood Plan
- a statement on how the plan fulfils the Basic Conditions (see later section on the ‘Basic Conditions’).
The consultation statement should contain the following:
- details of people and organisations consulted about the proposed Neighbourhood Plan
- details of how they were consulted
- a summary of the main issues and concerns raised through the consultation process
- descriptions of how these issues and concerns were considered and addressed in the proposed Neighbourhood Plan.
Upon receiving the submitted Neighbourhood Plan proposal the local authority will publicise it and invite comments (six weeks). These comments will be sent subsequently to the independent examiner for their consideration.
Meeting the Basic Conditions
The Basic Conditions for Neighbourhood Plans are specified by law:
- must be appropriate having regard to national policy
- must contribute to the achievement of sustainable development
- must be in general conformity with the strategic policies in the development plan for the local area
- must be compatible with human rights requirements
- must be compatible with EU obligations.
Neighbourhood Plans must not breach and must be compatible with EU and human rights obligations, including the Strategic Environment Assessment (SEA) Directive. Neighbourhood Plans should be screened at an early stage to ascertain whether they are likely to trigger significant environmental effects and thus whether an SEA needs to be carried out. The Local Planning Authority (LPA) should undertake this screening assessment, consulting relevant national bodies in coming to its screening opinion. The National Planning Policy Framework makes clear that a sustainability appraisal should be an integral part of the plan preparation process, but the particular assessment requirements need to respond to the scale, status and scope of the plan being developed.
It is the responsibility of the local authority to organise and cover the costs of the independent examination and referendum. The independent examiner will be appointed by the local authority with the consent of the qualifying body.
The independent examination will consider the submitted documents and any comments made during the consultation period on the submitted plan proposal. The independent examiner will examine whether the plan meets the ‘Basic Conditions’ and other relevant legal requirements (e.g. consultation).
The independent examiner may recommend that the plan proceed to the referendum stage (i.e. it meets all the legal requirements) or may suggest that modifications are needed to the plan before it can proceed to the referendum. Or they may recommend that it does not proceed to the referendum, if it does not meet the relevant legal requirements. In addition, they may recommend that the referendum area include individuals beyond the boundary of the neighbourhood area.
The local planning authority must make modifications to the plan if, with those modifications, the plan could comply with the Basic Conditions. The local community may withdraw the plan if it is unhappy with modifications being made.
If the plan is found to be satisfactory (i.e. complies with the key legal requirements) with modifications if necessary, then the local authority must arrange for the referendum to take place. It must give at least 28 working days notice of the referendum before the date of the referendum. The qualifying body may campaign before the referendum, subject to rules over expenses.
If more than 50% of those voting in the referendum vote ‘yes’, then the council will bring the plan into legal force.
Once a Neighbourhood Plan is made (i.e. brought into legal force by the local authority), it will be used to determine planning applications and guide planning decisions in the neighbourhood area. Having a plan and waiting for development is one thing, but elements of the plan will need active interventions on the part of the community, the local planning authority, developers and other key stakeholders.