How do you write a Neighbourhood Plan?
Once the decision to create a Neighbourhood Plan has been taken, designation has been made by the Local Authority and a Steering Group formed, the fun begins!
The steering group will be made up of local people who have deep knowledge and insight of the neighbourhood area. These people will take the first steps in identifying issues they believe to be important to the community that can be addressed through the neighbourhood plan.
Identify local issues
The steering group will create a catalogue of topics and from this produce the first community engagement. This needs to include the recording of residents opinions, so is usually accomplished through a questionnaire, often combined with open meetings, drop-in events and poster/leaflet campaigns.
Initial Community Engagement
When the steering group are satisfied that they have captured the communities desire and turned them into a vision and objectives, they will then turn back to the community to ask them if they have ‘got it right’. This may be done in the form of drop-in events or leaflet drops through letter boxes etc.. asking the community to agree or disagree with the proposals.
Confirm V&O with community
When the community engagement has been gathered back and the V&O have been confirmed or amended as needed, the policies to acieve the vision and objectives can start to be written. This is usually done by professionals, as they are the ‘legal bit’, so it is important to ensure the wording is right to make the policies as water-tight as possible.
Writing of policies
One of the Basic Conditions of a Neighbourhood Plan is that the plan ‘does not breach, or is otherwise compatible with, EU obligations’ One of these obligations relates to a Directive on the assessment of the effects of plans on the environment. The plan is put forward to the local authority, who consult with the environmental assessment bodies to determine whether your neighbourhood plan is likely to have a significant environmental effect. If so, it will have to go through a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA).
This is the steering groups opportunity to consider any representations made about the neighbourhood plan and make a judgement as to whether to amend the plan. All these decisions will be recorded and given to the examiner with the Neighbourhood Plan.
Respond to Regulation 14
A mutually accepted examiner is appointed to carry out the examination of the plan against the ‘Basic Conditions’. These ensure the plan contributes to the achievement of sustainable development, have regard to national policy and guidance and are in general conformity with adopted strategic local planning policies.
Depending on the results of the screening, the plan may have to undergo a Strategic Environmental Assessment. If not, it can progress to the next step.
If the Local Authority confirms a SEA is needed Locality offer a technical support package to help you achieve this.
Respond to screening
Formally called Regulation 15, this is the official submitting of the neighbourhood plan to the local authority.
Submission includes several other documents that must be submitted alongside the neighbourhood plan.
The examiner will produce a report on the neighbourhood plan. Whilst writing the report, they will most likely ask questions relating to the plan for clarification. They may also visit the neighbourhood plan area in order to fully appreciate the importance of issues raised in the plan.
Independent examination can result in 3 possibilities:
Plan meets basic conditions and can proceed to referendum
Plan will meet basic conditions after suggested modifications and can then proceed to referendum (most common result)
Plan does not meet basic conditions and cannot be proceed to referendum
The local authority will discuss the modifications with the neighbourhood planning body and make the modifications if agreed. The neighbourhood planning body can withdraw their plan at this stage.
As should be expected, the community consultation brings up many issues which various people would like to see addressed. The Steering group need to go through all this information carefully, pull out common themes and then split them into issues that can be addressed through the Neighbourhood Plan, issues that can become community aspirations (and addressed by the PC in due course) and issues that need to be dealt with in other ways.
From this, the SG work on a Vision, which encapsulates how the community want their parish/town to look in the next 15/20 years. This is usually a few paragraphs, outlining the picture of the parish and it’s community.
Next the objectives are concentrated on. The objectives are how the neighbourhood plan is going to achieve the vision.
Identify Vision & Objectives
This consists of finding technical evidence and anecdotal evidence to use as reasoning for why the policies are important for your neighbourhood plan. This may be identifying flood designations (technical) or finding photographs of village fetes held on an important area of green space (anecdotal).
This is another legal requirement in the neighbourhood plan process. Before submitting your neighbourhood plan to the local authority, the plan has to be publicised ‘in a manner which is likely to bring it to the attention of people who live, work or carry on business in the neighbourhood area’ for no less than 6 weeks. This is in order to give any interested party an opportunity to comment on the plan.
The Local Authority carries out it’s own consultation, consulting in exactly the same way as regulation 14. However this time, all responses will go to them and will be passed onto the Examiner.
If the plan passes examination, the local authority will hold a referendum asking
‘Do you want [local planning authority] to use the neighbourhood plan for [neighbourhood area] to help it decide planning applications in the neighbourhood area?’
If more than 50% of those voting in the referendum vote “yes” the plan becomes part of the statutory development plan for the area.