There is no set way to structure the delivery of a Neighbourhood Plan or Neighbourhood Development Order, save for the statutory requirements set out within the regulations. The format of all other aspects of the process largely depend on what is right for the community.
With a Neighbourhood Plan, communities will be able to establish general planning policies for the development and use of land in the neighbourhood. The Neighbourhood Plan will set a vision for the future. It can be detailed, or general, depending on what local people want.
There is no fixed format or template for a Neighbourhood Plan and it is not intended that these plans should be mini Core Strategies or Site Specific Plans. Communities may wish to concentrate on a few policies only which have a major impact on their area (for example density issues, housing for older people or rural diversification to name but a few issues). The costs of preparing a plan are therefore likely to vary depending on its complexity, detail and level of ambition.
The delivery of Plans and Orders should, however, be based around the following principles:
· Identifying a vision and objectives that accord with the overriding aims of Neighbourhood Planning i.e. land-based policies that seek to guide the spatial planning of your area;
· Sufficient consultation that ensures that the community and other key stakeholders have been fully involved in the development of the Plan or Order's final policies;
· Objective and transparent decision making along the way that ensures that the Plan or Order represents what is best for the community as a whole;
· Clear communication with local planning officers to ensure that they can offer the best possible support and guidance in relation to the requirements of the existing development plan.
The following provides the steps to the drafting of a Plan or Order that are now common practice, although they do not represent a rigid process.
Step one - the start of the process
One of the keys to delivering an informed and successful Plan or Order for an area is ensuring that the most appropriate people are guiding it and supporting it. It is therefore useful as a first step to set up a steering group that encompasses a range of knowledge, skills and personalities as well as a range of individuals that most broadly represent the community. Whilst in rural areas the Parish must lead on the delivery of the Plan or Order, it is possible for other individuals in the community to contribute as fully as possible as part of the steering group.
Communities will also want to assess the level of support they are able to obtain from local businesses, and where, appropriate, local developers as well as from central and local government.
Past this point, the development of a project plan and consultation strategy that sets out the process from start to finish and the key points at which the community's input will be sought will help provide clarity to those wanting to take an interest in the Plan's development.
Step two - identifying the Plan's vision, objectives and options
The next step is to begin to get an idea of what the Plan or Order can or should achieve. The motivation for a community to deliver a Plan or Order may have come about through a desire to manage a single existing issue - in which case a Neighbourhood Development Order may be most suitable. However, in addition there are many other outcomes that a successful Neighbourhood Plan can achieve.
The Government expects that communities will want to carefully scope the content of their Neighbourhood Plans as a preliminary exercise to ensure that they reflect local priorities
They will also want to look at what existing evidence is available for planning in the area, such as assessments prepared for the Core Strategy or other locally adopted plans. The amended Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 includes a 'basic condition' that Neighbourhood Plans have to be in general conformity with strategic policies such as contained in the Core Strategy. In most cases the most important strategic policies with which neighbourhood plans will have to generally conform will comprise the targets for housing and other development growth across the local planning authority's area - it will then be down to the Neighbourhood Plan to accurately identify their own locally proportionate role in helping meet these targets. In addition, neighbourhoods will be expected to come up with their own views on policies which should be decided at the neighbourhood level (i.e. non strategic), while contributing to meeting the needs of the wider area.
The combined results of initial consultation, findings from the review or production of any background studies and an identification of what the Plan can and cannot achieve set against the Core Strategy will enable the community to identify what the plan needs to achieve as a minimum. This assessment should then be used to establish the 'issues' that the Plan should seek to overcome and often a variety of potential solutions.
Step three - identifying your Plan's preferred options
Once the issues have been identified and the Plan's objectives have been set, the community will then need to make a decision on how to achieve its aims. The community may have identified a number of options on how to meet its objectives but it may only be appropriate to select one of them. Clear, informed and transparent decision making is important. There are several tools that should be used to ensure the decisions the steering group makes are objective and appropriate:
· Consultation: Where a range of options exist, it is recommended that the community are re-consulted to help identify which one they most commonly support. The Plan should be underpinned by consultation whenever relevant. Also, a Plan that most closely reflects the views of the community will stand the greatest chance at the referendum stage.
· Further use of evidence: Neighbourhood Plans and Neighbourhood Development Orders are important planning tools so decisions need to continue to be supported by evidence such as identified trends, physical or policy constraints, established need or reference to the viability and deliverability of certain types of development. Guidance on where to find relevant information is contained within these webpages. The amount of evidence that needs to be assessed or produced will depend on the scale and ambitions of the Neighbourhood Plan or Neighbourhood Development Order. There is no tick-box list of evidence which will automatically be required for all plans. The Neighbourhood Plan or Order may be able to use existing available evidence such as that used by the local planning authority in Plan preparation.
· Sustainability appraisal: Not every Neighbourhood Plan will need a sustainability appraisal of the type produced for local plans (known as Strategic Environmental Assessment or SEA) and not every Neighbourhood Development Order will need an environmental impact assessment. This will depend on whether what is proposed in the Neighbourhood Plan or Order is likely to have significant environmental effects. All neighbourhood forums and parish councils wanting to undertake neighbourhood planning should be in contact with the local planning authority as soon as they have a clear understanding of the plans objectives and the options that are available to meet these objectives.
The local planning authority will then be able to advise the forum or parish council if they think the emerging Neighbourhood Plan or Order will need to be subject of further assessment. If the local planning authority determine that a formal environmental assessment is required, the gathering of evidence for it and its preparation can be integrated into the process of producing the Neighbourhood Plan and may not require the involvement of external consultants.
Regardless of the need for a formal SEA it is, however, recommended that Plans are informed by at least a basic assessment of sustainability as they progress to ensure that the decisions that are made along the way reflect the environmental, economic and social needs of the Neighbourhood Area.
Once all of the key decisions have been made and the Plan or Order is drafted, the body preparing must statutorily consult with the community for 6 weeks before making any further changes and submitting the Plan or Order to the local planning authority. After the Plan or Order is received by the local planning authority, officers will check it against the legal requirements set out in the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 and then publicise it for at least a further 6 weeks to invite any final comments. The Plan will then be forwarded to an independent examiner along with any comments received during the second 6-week period and all other supporting documentation required by the regulations.
Last Updated: 06/12/2013