Neighbourhood Plans are a new local level of planning prepared by, and for, communities, with the intention of handing place shaping power back to the community. The plans allow local people to establish planning policies for the development and use of land in their neighbourhood. Neighbourhood Plans will be able to say where growth should be located in the neighbourhood, and how it should look. Once adopted, neighbourhood plans will sit alongside the Tandridge Local Plan, forming part of the overall Development Plan used to assess development proposals in the District.
Neighbourhood Plans were introduced as part of the ‘Localism Act 2011’ and came into law in 2012. This has now been largely superseded by the Neighbourhood Planning Act 2017. A Neighbourhood Plan can be an important tool in ensuring that development is appropriate for an area such as Godstone. Although a Neighbourhood Plan could, theoretically, contain policies that conflict with the Tandridge District Council Local Plan, the reality is that the plan would almost certainly never proceed because the Local Planning Authority, (in our case Tandridge District Council), need to be involved at key stages of development of the plan and they would be very unlikely to approve of such a conflict.
A Neighbourhood Plan is usually led by a Parish Council, (e.g. Godstone Parish Council), and is a way in which the local community can shape were development goes and what it looks like. This does not mean that the Parish Council must create a Neighbourhood Plan – it is a community-led planning framework, not a ‘duty’ of the Parish Council. A neighbourhood plan becomes part of the statutory development plan for the area, if successful at referendum.
A Neighbourhood Plan must meet certain conditions; it must comply with European and national legislation, it must comply with the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), it must contribute to the achievement of sustainable development and it must broadly aligned to existing strategic local planning policy. It can, however, specify policies and guidance on how new development should be designed, orientated and located. The plan can be a 5, 10, 15 or 20 year plan.
Once a Neighbourhood Plan has been completed, it is submitted to the local authority, (i.e. Tandridge District Council), and is then examined by an independent examiner who may make recommendations for modifications to ensure it meets legal requirements. Once this milestone has been passed, the plan is subjected to a public referendum. At least 50% of those voting must approve the plan.
Creating a Neighbourhood Plan is not a quick process. Government guidance suggests it is an 18-24 month process. The Neighbourhood Area must be defined, (usually the Parish boundary, but not necessarily so), and approved by the Local Authority, (in the case of Godstone, Tandridge District Council). There are time constraints in which the Local Authority must respond.
One the Neighbourhood Area is approved, the local planning authority is legally required to provide support and advice. This can include making data that they use as part of their evidence base for the Local Plan available, providing technical support and participating in meetings, (amongst many other things). Evidence is a key element in the creation of a Neighbourhood Plan – it is not sufficient to say ‘we don’t have enough affordable homes’ … evidence is needed to demonstrate that there is a need for affordable homes, that there is demand and that this demand comes from the existing population.
There are both advantages and disadvantages of creating a neighbourhood plan and these must be considered before any decision is made.
- A Neighbourhood Plan gives the community greater say over the type, location, size, pace and design of development
- A plan can help to tackle long term trends or challenges affecting communities, (such as a lack of affordable housing)
- Creating a plan can help to develop progressive relationships between the community, developers and the local authority
- A plan gives the neighbourhood far more influence over delivery and implementation
- A plan is an intensely locally focussed document. It can mean higher design standards or better environmental focus
- If a Neighbourhood Plan is adopted, the Parish Council receives 25% of all Community Infrastructure Levies, (CILs), for any development with the prescribed Neighbourhood Area
- A Neighbourhood Plan takes considerable time and effort to produce
- Creating a Neighbourhood Plan is NOT a duty of the Parish Council and requires a significant group of volunteers who are prepared to give time to the process over a period of 18-24 months
- A plan costs money to produce. On average around £20,000, although some have cost considerably more, (and others less)
- There are very strict guidelines on what a Neighbourhood Plan can and cannot contain. These are set out in ‘The Neighbourhood Planning (General) Regulations 2012‘ and the ‘Neighbourhood Planning Act 2017‘