The 2011 Localism Act gave the right to local communities to create their own neighbourhood development plans (NPDs) which would help shape various aspects of the future development, growth and character of the area. Over 80% of planning authorities (West Berkshire being one) have at least one area which has had a neighbourhood plan adopted.
It might be worth quoting the following introductory paragraph from the Gov.uk website:
Neighbourhood planning gives communities direct power to develop a shared vision for their neighbourhood and shape the development and growth of their local area. They are able to choose where they want new homes, shops and offices to be built, have their say on what those new buildings should look like and what infrastructure should be provided, and grant planning permission for the new buildings they want to see go ahead. Neighbourhood planning provides a powerful set of tools for local people to ensure that they get the right types of development for their community where the ambition of the neighbourhood is aligned with the strategic needs and priorities of the wider local area.
The Planning Aid website also emphasises the following point:
It must be stressed that the policies produced cannot block development that is already part of the Local Plan. What they can do is shape where that development will go and what it will look like.
The question of whether or not a a neighbourhood development plan (NDP) should be adopted is for each community to decide. There’s no obligation to do so but, if it wishes to do so, there are a number of conditions that need to be met.
Firstly, and most importantly, it must be consistent with the district council’s Local Plan which lays down the local planning policies. The process of creating an NDP will be done in co-operation with district council. If any aspects of the NDP are inconsistent with the Local Plan or any other relevant matter it will need to be revised.
The NDP needs to be conducted as part of a community-led exercise and needs to demonstrate that it has taken all relevant points of view into account. At the end of the process it will be adopted by the district council as part of its Local Plan and therefore have as much legal force as if the district council had written it itself.
There are several stages the NP needs to go through and at times there will be pauses while examinations or consultations take place. At the end of this process the NP will be put to a referendum (organised and paid for by the district council): if more than 50% of those voting agree (the average ‘yes’ vote on the 560+ NDPs which have been put to referendum is 89%) the plan is then adopted. For that point on it becomes ‘owned’ by the district council which assumes all the responsibility for enforcing it.
All councils have a statutory duty under the 2011 Localism Act to provide specified assistance to councils wishing to adopt a plan. (West Berkshire Council’s Service Level Agreement shows what it is able to do to assist parish and town councils in this process.)
The time and the costs of an NDP depend on a number of factors including how many different opinions there are in the parish and how easily common ground can be established; how much specialist help (for instance from planning consultants) is required; and whether there is any pre-existing work (for instance from a town or parish plan) which can be used. Stratfield Mortimer’s recent NDP took about four years (though others have taken less time) and cost about £15,000. Grants are available to cover some of these costs.
A steering group or similar will need to be set up to lead the project. This can be distinct from the parish council. The experience of Stratfield Mortimer (whose core steering group comprised only three people) suggests that the members do not and should not need to represent all the (often competing) interest groups in the parish. They should rather be able to take the views of all these groups and others into account and to synthesise these into a coherent document which is acceptable both to all the residents and to West Berkshire Council.
An NDP does not enable to parish council to prevent development, though it can influence where in the parish this takes place and what kind of properties are built. The parish can even decide that more homes are needed than are provided for in the Local Plan and try to ensure that these are allocated for specific purposes, such as affordable housing. This, and all other matters in the NDP, must be done in partnership with the district council and submitted to final approval by the local electorate.
If the Local Plan is amended (for instance as a result of a demand from central government to build more homes in the area or other national legislation) then the parish’s NDP (which will then be a part of the Local Plan) will be changed too.
NDPs also give parish councils an increased share of Community Infrastructure Levies (CILs). These are charged to developers at a rate based on the area of each property and is used to pay for (a) the provision, improvement, replacement, operation or maintenance of infrastructure; or (b) anything else that is concerned with addressing the demands that development places on an area. In West Berkshire, 15% of the CILs are passed to the parish council but the payments are capped annually (at the number of homes in the parish x £100 + index linking). If an NP is adopted, however, the figure is 25% and is uncapped.
Two other benefits may also arise from a parish producing an NDP. The first is that local organisations, societies and other groups can start up or be given fresh energy by the level of community engagement which result from discussing an NDP. The second is that it can result in the a better relationship between the parish and the district council, which each being as a result better informed about the other’s problems, restrictions and aspirations.
In short, an NDP provides an opportunity for a parish to influence the aspects of the Local Plan which affect it and to work with the district council and local residents to achieve this. It takes time, it costs money and it involves work but it will produce tangible and positive results. Over 560 parish councils have already had their NDPs adopted and many more, including several in West Berkshire, are in the process of producing one.
One parish which formally embarked on the adoption of an NDP in 2018 is Hungerford: click here for up-to-date information on the progress and on how local residents can get involved.
Some of this information was taken from two articles written in Penny Post covering the discussions leading up to Hungerford’s decision to adopt a parish plan This one was written in June 2017 following an initial public meeting to discuss the proposal. (This also contains a number of links to sources of further advice on the matter.) This one was written in January 2018 following a second public meeting – which was addressed by Pat Wingfield of Stratfield Mortimer which had recently had its own NDP adopted – after which Hungerford took the decision to proceed. (This also includes a video of the entire event.)
Although every effort has been made to provide a dispassionate coverage of the discussions and issues, please note that neither this article nor the two mentioned above are official records. These articles were written by Penny Post and may not represent the views of Hungerford Town Council nor of any the organisations or individuals involved in developing the neighbourhood plan.
The following websites provide more information on neighbourhood plans: Gov.uk; My Community; Forum for Neighbourhood Planning; Planning Aid; Locality; The Department for Communities and Local Government; and West Berkshire’s own website.