PlanET are continuing to work hard for all our councils, ensuring their Neighbourhood Plans are progressing. There are many options for work that can be carried out whilst adhering to all the current social distancing rules.
Please contact us if you have any queries or would like some advice about current options and ideas.
Useful advice and links
the neighbourhood planning team continue to work from home at full capacity and there will be no reduction in our services. This includes the advice service, which continues to operate as normal.
We will also continue to deliver our technical support packages. However, in light of Government advice to avoid social interaction, face to face meetings between groups receiving support and our delivery partners (e.g. AECOM) will no longer take place. However, our delivery partners will continue to liaise with groups using other means. Our deliver partners will advise you directly on this and will let you know if there are any implications for delivery. We anticipate being able to undertake and complete the vast majority of packages.
What changes have been introduced to neighbourhood planning in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic?
The government has been clear that all members of society are required to adhere to guidance to help combat the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19). The guidance has implications for neighbourhood planning including: the referendum process; decision-making; oral representations for examinations; and public consultation. This planning guidance supersedes any relevant aspects of current guidance on neighbourhood planning, including in paragraphs 007, 056, 057, 061 and 081 until further notice.
Referendums: All neighbourhood planning referendums that have been recently cancelled, or are scheduled to take place, between 16 March 2020 and 5 May 2021 are postponed in line with the Local Government and Police and Crime Commissioner (Coronavirus) (Postponement of Elections and Referendums) (England and Wales) Regulations 2020 until 6 May 2021.
Where the local planning authority has issued a decision statement (as set out under Regulation 18 of the Neighbourhood Planning (General) Regulations 2012) detailing its intention to send a neighbourhood plan to referendum, that plan can be given significant weight in decision-making, so far as the plan is material to the application.
The general rule remains that examinations should be conducted by written representations. If an examiner considers that oral representations are necessary, these should not take place in person. Wherever possible, oral representations may still take place using video conferencing or other suitable technologies.
Public consultation: The Neighbourhood Planning (General) Regulations 2012 require neighbourhood planning groups and local planning authorities to undertake publicity in a manner that is likely to bring it to the attention of people who live, work or carry on business in the neighbourhood area at particular stages of the process. It is not mandatory that engagement is undertaken using face-to-face methods. However, to demonstrate that all groups in the community have been sufficiently engaged, such as with those without internet access, more targeted methods may be needed including by telephone or in writing. Local planning authorities may be able to advise neighbourhood planning groups on suitable methods and how to reach certain groups in the community.
There are also requirements in the Neighbourhood Planning (General) Regulations 2012 that require at some stages of the process for neighbourhood planning groups and local planning authorities to publicise the neighbourhood planning proposal and publish details of where and when documents can be inspected. It is not mandatory for copies of documents to be made available at a physical location. They may be held available online. Local planning authorities may be able to advise neighbourhood planning groups on suitable methods that will provide communities with access to physical copies of documents.
From the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government (MHCLG)
Regulations implemented as a result of the Coronavirus Act 2020 mean that elections and referendums cannot take place until 6 May 2021. This is being kept under review and may be amended or stopped if circumstances change.
Guidance has been set out so that neighbourhood plans awaiting referendums can be given “significant weight” in decision-making.
Regarding public consultation, which under the Neighbourhood Planning (General) Regulations 2012 does not mean this necessarily has to be face to face, to demonstrate that all groups in the community have been sufficiently engaged – such as with those without internet access – more targeted methods may be needed including by telephone or in writing.
Local planning authorities may be able to advise neighbourhood planning groups on suitable methods and how to reach certain groups in the community. More on this can be read here.
Local plans should still be progressing through the system as they will support the economic recovery from the pandemic and to meet the 2023 deadline by which all local authorities should have a plan in place.
“We recognise the challenges that some local authorities may face, and are working on ways to address this, from temporarily relaxing requirements on community engagement and the need for physical documents, to engaging with the Planning Inspectorate on the use of virtual hearings and written submissions.”
Planning Practice Guidance (PPG) on plan-making has been updated to explain how local authorities can review and update their Statements of Community Involvement and should be read in parallel with existing guidance on plan-making, including paragraphs 34, 35 and 71. If there is any conflict, this guidance supersedes current plan-making guidance until further notice.
More information can be found here.