What is a Neighbourhood Plan?

The government has introduced the community right to do neighbourhood planning through the Localism Act. General regulations governing neighbourhood planning came into effect in April 2012 setting out a series of measures to shift power away from central government and towards local people. One of its key components is the concept of a Neighbourhood Plan, a new tier in planning policy which enables local people to shape the development of the community in which they live for the next twenty years. Once approved, a Neighbourhood Plan will be incorporated into Lichfield's Local Plan thereby ensuring that all future development must abide by it. In essence, a Neighbourhood Plan will allow us to have a much greater say in the future of our village. In particular, we will be able to:

  • Choose where we want new homes, shops and offices to be built
  • Have our say as to what type of new buildings we prefer, what they should look like and what infrastructure should be provided
  • Grant planning permission for the new buildings we want to see go ahead.

Under current regulations, whilst Parish Councils do have an opportunity to comment on planning applications in their patch, in practice, it is unusual for Parish views to have a meaningful say in the ultimate planning decision. It is the Government's intention for Neighbourhood Plans to put power back into the hands of local residents, businesses, councils and civic leaders. It is well-worth listening to this talk by Nigel McGurk,  Land and Planning Professional and the Independent examiner of the Thame Neighbourhood Plan - reflecting on neighbourhood planning at a recent Cabe/Design Council event.

Central Goverment recognises that Parish Councils are likely to need financial support and guidance to put togther a viable NeighbourHood Plan and so they have established a number of advisor organisation in place to support groups developing neighbourhood plans. This support is available in two ways:

  • Direct support – advice and support, with an average value of equivalent to £9,500, tailored to meet the needs of supported neighbourhoods
  • Grant payments – up to £7,000 per neighbourhood area, to contribute to costs incurred by the group preparing a neighbourhood plan or order.

The Steering Committee have applied for and been awarded a grant of £7,000 and are considering what, if any, Direct support we might need. Meanhile, Lichfield District Council, our planning authority, is providing support in various forms and the Parish Council has budgeted up to £2,000 to cover local costs like room-hire, publicity (leaflets; newsletters, etc). It is generally acknowledged that the process of developing a Neighbourhood Plan will benefit greatly by involving as wide a section of local residents, businesses and developers as practical. Transparency is crucial to reduce any chance of conflicts of interest. To this end, rather than simply appoint selected people, the Parish Council initiated the plan by calling a public meeting with the specific intention of giving local residents an opportunity to take part in the formation of the Steering Committee and, in turn, the Steering Committee called another meeting to invite local residents to take part in the five Task Groups that would consider the main issues that will face the village over the next 15 years or so. The five Task Groups are:

  • Development - housing; infrastructure; business development
  • Traffic & Transport - parking; traffic;  public transport needs
  • Environment & Conservation Area - Wildlife; Heritage; Flora
  • Residents & Community - Employment; Education; Health Care; Recreation
  • Public Realm - Open Spaces; Rights of Way; Pubic buildings; Tourism; Canal & River

Listen to Tom Lonsdale, Chartered Landscape Architect and Built Environment Expert, on Why Consensus is a must:

The deliberations of these Task Groups will be guided initially by the conclusions and recommendations made by the existing Rural Masterplan process which was drawn by Lichfield District Council via a series of public consultations and work groups. The Steering Commttee wil hold further public meetings & exhibition to give local residents ample opportunity to comment on the recommendations made by the Task Groups. A Public Exhibition took place on the occasion of the Alrewas Canal & Music Festival over the weekend of July 26th-28th - 176 people expressed their views and we will publish a detailed analysis of the results in the near future.. Once the Neighbourhood Plan has been approved by Lichfield District Council and an independent examiner it will be the subject of a referendum held in the village - if the vote is a simple majority (over 50% of those voting) the Neighbourhood Plan will become a statutory part of Lichfield DC's Local Plan.

Why does neighbourhood planning matter?

The planning system helps decide what gets built, where and when. It is essential for supporting economic growth, improving people’s quality of life, and protecting the natural environment. In theory, planning was always supposed to give local communities a say in decisions that affect them. But in practice, communities have often found it hard to have a meaningful say. The government wants to put power back in the hands of local residents, employees and business, councils and civic leaders - those who know best the needs of their local areas. Neighbourhood planning is optional, not compulsory. No one has to do it, if they don’t want to. But we think that lots of people will want to take the opportunity, to influence the future of the place where they live or work.

How does neighbourhood planning work?

There are 5 key stages to neighbourhood planning.

Stage 1: defining the neighbourhood

First, local people will need to decide how they want to work together. In areas with a parish or town council, the parish or town council will take the lead on neighbourhood planning. They have long experience of working with and representing local communities. In areas without a parish or town council, local people will need to decide which organisation should lead on coordinating the local debate. In some places, existing community groups may want to put themselves forward. In other places, local people might want to form a new group. In both cases, the group must meet some basic standards. It must, for example, have at least 21 members, and it must be open to new members. Town and parish councils and community groups will then need to apply to the local planning authority (usually the borough or district council). It’s the local planning authority’s job to keep an overview of all the different requests to do neighbourhood planning in their area. They will check that the suggested boundaries for different neighbourhoods make sense and fit together. The local planning authority will say no if, for example, 2 proposed neighbourhood areas overlap. They will also check that community groups who want to take the lead on neighbourhood planning meet the right standards. The planning authority will say no if, for example, the organisation is too small or not representative enough of the local community, including residents, employers and business.

Liz Kessler, Urban Designer & Built Environment Expert: How to design places that work for people

Listen to Liz discuss the importance of design to your neighbourhood plan and how to design places that work for people.

Stage 2: preparing the plan

Local people will need to pull together and prioritise their early ideas, and draw up their plans. They can choose to draw up either a plan, or a development order, or both. It is entirely up to them. Both must follow some ground rules:

  • they must generally be in line with local and national planning policies
  • they must be in line with other laws
  • if the local planning authority says that an area needs to grow, then communities cannot use neighbourhood planning to block the building of new homes and businesses; they can, however, use neighbourhood planning to influence the type, design, location and mix of new development
  • neighbourhood plans must contribute to achieving sustainable development

With a neighbourhood plan, communities are able to establish general planning policies for the development and use of land in a neighbourhood. They will be able to say, for example, where new homes and offices should be built, and what they should look like. The neighbourhood plan will set a vision for the future. It can be detailed, or general, depending on what local people want. With a neighbourhood development order, the community can grant planning permission for new buildings they want to see go ahead. Neighbourhood development orders allow new homes and offices to be built, without the developers having to apply for separate planning permission.

Stage 3: independent check

Once a neighbourhood plan or order has been prepared, an independent examiner will check that it meets the right basic standards. If the plan or order doesn’t meet the right standards, the examiner will recommend changes. The planning authority will then need to consider the examiner’s views and decide whether to make those changes. If the examiner recommends significant changes, then the parish, town council or neighbourhood forum may decide to consult the local community again before proceeding.

Stage 4: community referendum

The local council will organise a referendum on any plan or order that meets the basic standards. This ensures that the community has the final say on whether a neighbourhood plan or order comes into force. People living in the neighbourhood who are registered to vote in local elections will be entitled to vote in the referendum. If more than 50% of people voting in the referendum support the plan or order, then the local planning authority must bring it into force.

Once a neighbourhood plan is in force following a successful referendum, it carries real legal weight. Decision makers are obliged to consider proposals for development in the neighbourhood against the neighbourhood plan. A neighbourhood order grants planning permission for development that complies with the order. Where people have made clear that they want development of a particular type, it will be easier for that development to go ahead.