What is a Neighbourhood Plan?
The Localism Act which became law in April 2012 introduced a number of Community Rights with the aim of giving people and groups a greater say over what happens in their areas and to shape their neighbourhood’s futures. One of the new rights allows communities to produce a neighbourhood plan (the legal term is a Neighbourhood Development Plan). Neighbourhood plans set out policies on the development and use of land in a parish or neighbourhood area. The Neighbourhood Planning Regulations 2012 set out the legal requirements for neighbourhood plans and other community rights.
Neighbourhood plans are statutory planning documents which means that they must be take account of in planning decisions. There is no legal requirement to produce a neighbourhood plan but communities might find it beneficial to plan their local area and to decide where and what type of development should happen.
Why produce one?
A neighbourhood plan can:
- Give local people greater ownership of the planning policies in their area.
- Allow a community to set out where development should take place, and the type and quality of that development.
- Bring the community together to share ideas and build consensus about the needs and priorities for the area.
- Help create lasting partnerships to take forward actions that may arise from the process.
Who produces it?
A Neighbourhood plan can only be prepared by a ‘qualifying body’ which is the Parish or Town Council or a ‘neighbourhood forum’ in those areas without parishes. A neighbourhood forum must be approved by the local planning authority.
How is it produced?
There are five broad stages to preparing a neighbourhood plan:
1. Designation of a neighbourhood area
The parish council or neighbourhood forum must apply to the local planning authority to designate a neighbourhood area.
2. Preparing the plan
The neighbourhood plan regulations require public consultation on the draft neighbourhood plan and submission of a consultation statement to the local planning authority. This means the plan must be based on thorough consultation with the community and be supported with a clear evidence base.
In practice there are many ways of consulting with the local community. A good starting point is to use any previous consultation work, for example a parish plan, as a basis for further investigation of issues that are important to the area. Various methods of engagement can be used to identify local issues, for example workshops, presentations, drop in sessions, on-line questionnaires. Once issues are understood then a draft vision and objectives report can be drawn up and consulted on, leading on to further rounds of consultation on development options and policies before the draft plan is prepared.
Other evidence that will typically be required to support the draft plan are a Sustainability Appraisal and a statistical profile of the area. Sustainability appraisal is a process that identifies and reports on the likely environmental, social and economic impacts of the plan.
Once the draft neighbourhood plan is submitted to the local planning authority, there is a further period of statutory consultation. The authority will also check that the plan is compliant with legislation, including national planning policy and its Local Plan.
3. Independent Examination
The local planning authority will appoint an independent examiner who will consider whether the plan meets ‘basic conditions’, including compliance with national policy, the local plan, EU obligations and the neighbourhood plan regulations. The Examiner must recommend either that the draft plan proceeds to referendum, that it should proceed to referendum subject to certain amendments or that it should be refused.
The local authority organises the referendum which is open to any individual registered to vote in the neighbourhood area. If the majority of those who vote, vote in favour, then the neighbourhood plan will become a planning policy document within the local authority’s local plan.
5. The plan comes into force
The neighbourhood plan will be used in the determination of planning applications.
Who can help you?
Cheshire Community Action can provide practical guidance on community engagement aspects of the neighbourhood planning process. We also provide detailed socio-economic reports at parish level that can contribute to the evidence base. We provide different levels of service in different parts of Cheshire so please contact us in the first instance to find out what we can offer.
Neighbourhood Plan Toolkit
CCA has comprehensive guidance to help you deliver a successful and effective Neighbourhood Plan.
The Introductory Guide to Neighbourhood Plans can be seen under Relevant Downlaods, on the left of this page.
For further information, help or advice please contact Lucy Jones or Richard Thresh via the contact page.
Cheshire West & Chester Council has information on its website.
Free advice and guidance can be found from a number of sources currently funded by the Department of Communities and Local Government:
The Royal Town Planning Institute
Locality has produced a step-by-step guide to preparing a neighbourhood plan
Parish and town councils and neighbourhood forums can apply for grants of up to £7,000 or direct support through the Department of Communities and Local Government’s ‘Supporting Communities in Neighbourhood Planning programme’:-