Neighbourhood Development Plans: Power to the people?
With a number of major planning applications recently being refused amidst perceived concerns that the proposed developments would conflict with emerging Neighbourhood Development Plans (NDPs), many are wondering if such plans are now being afforded the weight that the Government envisaged when it introduced its Localism agenda.
In this article, we consider the legislative background to NDPs and how effective a planning tool they are for developers as a way of influencing emerging local land use planning policy.
What are they?
Originally envisaged as a mechanism for local estates and streets taking control of land use planning and leading on what happens in their area, neighbourhood plans can only be prepared by parish and town councils or designated neighbourhood forums. The preparation of the plans is overseen by councils and they cannot propose less development than the planning authority's own plan.
Once formulated, the plans have to be formally examined and pass a referendum.
NDPs do not have to follow the adoption of the relevant local plan and in this sense, they can help provide clarity for developers where there is no up-to-date local plan. NDPs only have to conform to the strategic policies in the development plan for the area at the time of examination. The emerging local plan is irrelevant in this context, although national policy, ministerial guidance and evidence supporting an emerging plan could all be relevant when assessing a NDP.
To date, only four NDPs have been ‘made' or adopted despite more than 630 neighbourhood areas being designated throughout the UK. A further nine have succeeded at examination and 25 have been submitted to examination.
So at what point does a NDP start to carry weight in the development management process? For an NDP to be legally and policy compliant, it must be in general conformity with the relevant development plan. Given the huge number of local authorities are yet to get an up-to-date plan in place, it is difficult to see how a NDP can meet this requirement.
As with emerging development plans, the weight afforded to NDPs will depend on how far advanced they are. The draft National Planning Practice Guidance (NPPG) suggests:
"Whilst a referendum ensures that the community has the final say on whether the neighbourhood plan comes into force decision-makers should respect evidence of local support prior to seeking to apply weight to an emerging neighbourhood plan."
One of the most recent examples of the way NDPs are being considered was seen in East Staffordshire. The Borough Council recommended that a 100-unit residential scheme on a greenfield site in Rolleston Village beapproved. A draft NDP drawn up by the Parish Council (Rolleston on Dove), which had been through examination and is awaiting a referendum, does not allow housing on the application site.
Whilst the NDP was considered to be in conformity with the adopted local plan, Officers stated that NDP was in conflict with the emerging plan, which allocated the application site for housing. Members refused the application, saying that approval of the scheme would see the NDP undermined and that it would effectively have to be abandoned.
Do you need to take note?
Whilst it is interesting to note that Members appear to be recognising the importance of well advanced NDPs, in essence neighbourhood plans carry little weight without an up-to-date local plan.
In particular, where there is a draft NDP but a lack of a deliverable five-year housing land supply, the housing supply shortfall is likely to be the single most important material consideration for a council in determining planning applications for residential development.
In the case of East Staffordshire, it will be interesting to see if the applicant appeals and, if so, what weight the Inspector places on the NDP. The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) makes it clear that NDPs only have to conform with the strategic policies of a local plan, which might not include for-site allocations.
NDPs appear to be more like part of the ‘established system' and as a consequence, are probably less attractive as a tool to resist proposed development as local residents and action groups originally envisaged.
With this in mind, NDPs offer the opportunity for developers to be involved in the strategic planning for an area and a forum to engage with local residents and groups to influence and shape future development proposals at a local level.
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