Is a neighbourhood plan right for your community? Parish Councils or community-led groups should consider carefully what they are seeking to achieve through a neighbourhood plan. Below are some of the issues that you may wish to consider when deciding if you should prepare your own neighbourhood plan.
Parishes and neighbourhood forums can use neighbourhood plans to set planning policies to determine decisions on planning applications.
Neighbourhood planning provides a powerful set of tools for local people to ensure that they get the right types of development for their community.
Outside the strategic requirements of the national and local planning framework, neighbourhood plans can shape and direct sustainable development in their area.
A Neighbourhood Plan must apply to the development and use of land. Wider community aspirations than those relating to development and use of land can be included in a neighbourhood plan, but actions dealing with non land use matters should be clearly identifiable (for example, set out in a companion document or annex).
If passed at a local referendum, a Neighbourhood Plan will be adopted by Maidstone Borough Council as a plan which must be used in law to determine planning applications in the Parish. Neighbourhood Plans are statutory documents and are additional to, not a replacement for, the Maidstone Borough Local Plan. Once the plan has passed referendum, the non-strategic CIL money transferred to the Parish Council or Neighbourhood Forum will rise from 15% to 25%.
A Neighbourhood Plan cannot ignore the Government’s National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). The NPPF must be taken into account in the preparation of neighbourhood plans. The NPPF is clear that neighbourhoods should develop plans that support the strategic development needs set out in Local Plans, including policies for housing and economic development and plan positively to support local development, shaping and directing development in their area that is outside the strategic elements of the Local Plan.
Neighbourhood plans must be in general conformity with the strategic policies of the adopted Local Plan. Neighbourhood plans should reflect these policies and neighbourhoods should plan positively to support them. Neighbourhood plans should not promote less development than set out in the Local Plan or undermine its strategic policies.
Although a draft Neighbourhood Plan is not tested against the policies in an emerging Local Plan, the National Planning Policy Guidance states that the reasoning and evidence informing the Local Plan process may be relevant to the consideration of the basic conditions against which a neighbourhood plan is tested. In developing neighbourhood plans before an up-to-date local plan is in place, the Borough Council will take an active role in advising and supporting the local neighbourhood plan team, sharing evidence and information in order to help enable the local Neighbourhood Plan team to be aware of any relevant up-to-date evidence and the strategic policies of the emerging Local Plan.
It is important to minimise any conflicts between policies in the neighbourhood plan and those in the adopted Maidstone Borough Local Plan and the emerging Local Plan Review. This is because where there is conflict between the two documents, even if a neighbourhood plan is made ahead of the Local Plan Review, it can be superseded by the policy which is contained in the last document to become part of the development plan (under Section 38(5) of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004).
The level of work will largely depend on how much detail the plan goes into. This will be decided at the local level. The Plan itself is prepared by the Parish Council or Neighbourhood Forum. Experience of the earlier neighbourhood plans shows it is important not to underestimate the resources you will need to collect evidence, ensure full community involvement, draft the plan and fulfil the legal requirements.
There are Government regulations that set out the key stages to be followed. The process includes a number of statutory stages including community engagement and consultation on the draft document. Given that a Neighbourhood Plan, once adopted, will be used to determine planning applications, it is also subject to an examination and a community referendum before it can be adopted.
The time taken to bring a Neighbourhood Plan into force will clearly vary depending on the complexity and size of the plan; it has been estimated that the entire process, from inception to adoption, could take 2 years as a minimum.
The cost of producing a Neighbourhood Plan will vary depending on its scope and content. The development plan system is evidence driven and the purpose of the examination is in part to consider whether a plan is supported by the evidence. It may be that evidence (usually technical studies) has already been produced by the Borough Council that will meet the requirements of neighbourhood plans. However, some new evidence may be required depending on the nature of the Plan and the cost will fall to the Parish Council/ Neighbourhood Forum.
The Government estimate that the costs will be between £20,000 and £86,000. This cost, with the exception of the Examination and Referendum, is borne by the community producing the Neighbourhood Plan. Clearly, some smaller plans will cost less, whilst others could cost more.
It is helpful if the group preparing the neighbourhood plan have a number of general skills including leadership, project management, organisational skills and an ability to engage, communicate and negotiate with a diverse range of stakeholders and members of the public.
In the absence of a neighbourhood plan, Maidstone Borough Council will still continue to rely on the relevant policies in the adopted Maidstone Borough Local Plan. The Local Plan is subject to review under the Local Plan Review. It is likely that Local Plans will be reviewed every five years. Some supplementary planning documents (SPD) will also be produced.
Village Design Statement
If local issues are predominantly about the design of new development, a Village Design Statement can be prepared. In order to be adopted by the Council, the document would need to be based on a thorough assessment of the existing character of the area and to have involved meaningful community engagement. There is no need for an examination or referendum to produce a Village Design Statement.
Parish Plan/ Community Plan
A Parish Plan/ Community Plan can develop a shared vision for a neighbourhood but can focus on wider non land use issues (e.g. access to services, increasing participation in sport, litter, traffic calming, cycle ways and footpaths etc.). The plans tend to be more action based and can range across a wider range of issues than a Neighbourhood Plan. A Parish/ Community Plan would be appropriate in identifying priorities for community action.
Neighbourhood Development Order/Community Right to Build Order
Parishes and neighbourhood forums can use neighbourhood planning to grant planning permission through Neighbourhood Development Orders and Community Right to Build Orders for specific development which complies with the order.
Neighbourhood Planning is governed by the Neighbourhood Planning (General) Regulations 2012 and is made up of the following key stages;
The flowchart explains what happens at each stage.
Neighbourhood Plans are led by the qualifying body from the local community (the Parish Council or Neighbourhood Forum) and should be tailored to fit local circumstances. The essence of localism is that communities can create a plan which meets local needs.
Consequently, it is not for Local Planning Authorities to write these plans, it is for representatives of the community. We will provide support as set out below but if you require further advice with steps in the process or the detailed drafting of your Neighbourhood Plan you may wish to seek independent advice.
Maidstone Borough Council will offer support to all Parish Councils and designated Neighbourhood Forums in preparing neighbourhood plans and the different types of support available are set out below:
Locality's Supporting Communities and Neighbourhoods in Planning Programme helps local groups develop neighbourhood plans through grants or direct support. Information produced by Locality can be accessed through the following link: https://locality.org.uk/services-tools/neighbourhood-planning/
Grants are available for communities developing a neighbourhood plan. Locality provide the neighbourhood planning support programme and £10,000 Basic Grant is available. Additional funding of £8,000 is available for more complex issues. More information can be found at the following link: https://neighbourhoodplanning.org/apply/
The basic grant can be spent on costs associated with developing the neighbourhood plan, such as:
* start-up costs, including setting up a neighbourhood forum in an unparished area, or developing a website
* help with developing the evidence base and analysing it to identify issues and aims for your plan
* contributions to required studies for example housing need, environmental assessment
* engaging an external facilitator for community consultation and /or workshops
* engaging a planning expert to help you to with the process or drafting relevant policies
* help with understanding whether your plan is ready for examination (meeting the basic conditions and other legal requirements)
The direct support element of the programme enables you to receive expert advice tailored to the individual needs of your area to help you to complete the various stages of your neighbourhood plan. This support is provided by Locality and Planning Aid England. Planning advice will be given by qualified planners, although their work may be supplemented by community engagement specialists.
If you need assistance with the neighbourhood planning process or you require help with the detailed drafting of your Neighbourhood Plan you may wish to seek independent advice from a Planning Consultant.
Locality grants can be used to engage consultants to support your neighbourhood plan but you are strongly advised to ensure that they are appropriately qualified for the work, whether it be facilitation skills for community engagement, or planning expertise.
This would mean using a qualified planner, preferably a chartered member of the Royal Town Planning Institute (MRTPI), with relevant experience and expertise in Neighbourhood Planning.
Click here for more information http://www.rtpiconsultants.co.uk/listing/region/13/36
Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government Neighbourhood Planning Guidance can be found here: http://planningguidance.planningportal.gov.uk/blog/guidance/neighbourhood-planning/
How to create a Neighbourhood Plan: Your step by step produced by locality can be found here: https://neighbourhoodplanning.org/toolkits-and-guidance/create-neighbourhood-plan-step-by-step-roadmap-guide/
Neighbourhood Planning and the Historic Environment by Historic England can be found here: https://historicengland.org.uk/images-books/publications/neighbourhood-planning-and-the-historic-environment/
A successful neighbourhood plan must be based on up to date evidence and an understanding of the place it relates to. Communities should therefore gather a range of evidence and local knowledge before writing their plan. The following information is available to parish councils and neighbourhood forums to help understand the local area and its needs. Additional more tailored local research may be needed to supplement the currently available information.
Local Plan Review Evidence Base
The Maidstone Borough Local Plan was adopted in 2017. The Local Plan commits the Council to completely a review of the plan. The Local Plan Review is ongoing and will be adopted by 2023. As part of the Local Plan Review, the Borough Council has prepared an extensive evidence base. Qualifying bodies should refer to this evidence to support their neighbourhood plans. The Local Plan Review evidence base can be found here:
Conservation Area Appraisals and Management Plans
CAMPs assess the special character and appearance of conservation areas – with management plans proposing future enhancements. If part of your neighbourhood plan area is designated as a conservation area, it is worth checking whether a CAMP has been produced – and understanding what it describes as special about the area and what could be improved so that this can be taken into account in making your neighbourhood plan.
Character Area Assessments
Currently Character Area Assessments have been carried out for the London Road, Bower Mount Road, Buckland Hill area and the Loose Road area of Maidstone. The assessments describe the locally distinctive character of an area and set out design guidance. If your neighbourhood area covers one of these areas, it is worth checking what the assessment describes as special about the area so that this can be taken into account in making your neighbourhood plan.
Infrastructure Delivery Plan (IDP)
The IDP is an evolving document which identifies the need for physical (e.g. transport; sewers); social and community (e.g. schools, health facilities, libraries and community buildings) and green infrastructure (e.g. sports pitches, play areas, allotments, natural and semi-natural open space) to support development of the emerging Local Plan. The location of each infrastructure enhancement is identified in the IDP so it should be possible to identify what is planned for your neighbourhood area.
Click here for more information https://localplan.maidstone.gov.uk/home/adopted-local-plan
Kent County Council has published a number of profiles for each ward in the county based on the 2011 Census. The profiles provide a range of factual information about your neighbourhood plan area.
Click here for more information https://www.kent.gov.uk/about-the-council/information-and-data/facts-and-figures-about-Kent/area-profiles
The 2011 Census represents the most comprehensive statistical material available for your area.
Click here for more information https://www.ons.gov.uk/census/2011census
Only a draft neighbourhood Plan that meets each of the basic conditions can be put to a referendum and be made. The basic conditions are set out in paragraph 8(2) of Schedule 4B to the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 as applied to neighbourhood plans by section 38A of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004.
The ‘Basic Conditions’ are set out in Paragraph 8(2) of Schedule 4B to the 1990 Act. In order to meet the basic conditions, your neighbourhood plan must:
Regulation 32 of the 2012 Regulations prescribes a further Basic Condition for a neighbourhood plan. This requires that the making of the Neighbourhood Plan does not breach the requirements of Chapter 8 of Part 6 of the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017 (‘the Habitats Regulations’).
Throughout the process of developing a neighbourhood plan you should consider how you will demonstrate that your neighbourhood plan will meet the basic conditions that must be met if the plan is to be successful at independent examination. You are advised to discuss meeting the basic conditions with the Borough Council. We will, on request, provide constructive comments on whether the emerging neighbourhood plan is likely to meet the basis conditions prior to submission. However, a formal opinion will not be provided until after the examiner’s report.
A basic conditions statement setting out how a draft neighbourhood plan meets the basic conditions must accompany the draft neighbourhood plan when it is submitted to the local planning authority.
The basic conditions statement is prepared by the Parish Council or Neighbourhood Forum and is likely to be the main way that you can demonstrate to the examiner that your draft neighbourhood plan meets the basic conditions.
A draft neighbourhood plan must meet all basic conditions if it is to proceed to referendum.
In addition, the basic conditions statement needs to confirm that the neighbourhood plan meets other legal requirements, as follows:
There is no legal requirement for a neighbourhood plan to have a sustainability appraisal. However, a parish council or neighbourhood forum must demonstrate how its plan will contribute to achieving sustainable development. A sustainability appraisal may be a useful approach for doing this (reference should be made to the guidance on sustainability appraisal of local plans).
One of the basic conditions that will be tested by the independent examiner is whether the making of the neighbourhood plan is compatible with European Union obligations (including under Directive 2001/42/EC). The European Directive 2001/42/EC has subsequently been transposed into English law by the Environmental Assessment of Plans and Programmes Regulations 2004, or SEA Regulations.
In some circumstances, where a neighbourhood plan could have significant environmental effects, it may fall within the scope of the Environmental Assessment of Plans and Programmes Regulations 2004 and so require a strategic environmental assessment. Whether a neighbourhood plan requires a strategic environmental assessment, and (if so) the level of detail needed, will depend on what is proposed in the draft neighbourhood plan. A strategic environmental assessment may be required, for example, where:
The main determining factor as to whether an SEA is required on a neighbourhood plan is if it is likely to have a significant effect on the environment.
Maidstone Borough Council is legally required to determine whether a neighbourhood plan will require SEA. Parish councils and neighbourhood forums are advised to seek this opinion at an early stage, once the potential scope of the neighbourhood plan is known.
In assessing whether an SEA is likely to be required, the council will consult statutory consultees Historic England, Natural England and the Environment Agency. The borough council will feed back the conclusions of its SEA screening exercise to the parish council or neighbourhood forum. Where a neighbourhood plan requires a strategic environmental assessment, work on this should start at the same time that work starts on developing the neighbourhood plan. Those preparing the plan are responsible for its production and it must form part of the material that is consulted on once the formal consultation stage is reached. The SEA will be part of the submission documents submitted to the independent examiner.
Where a neighbourhood plan does not require a strategic environmental assessment the qualifying body should submit a short environmental statement stating this.
One of the basic conditions that will be tested by the independent examiner is whether the making of the neighbourhood plan does not breach the requirements of Chapter 8 of Part 6 of the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017 (‘the Habitats Regulations’). The Habitats Regulations require any plan or project likely to have a significant effect on a European site to be subject to an Appropriate Assessment.
The borough council will undertake a screening to test whether a neighbourhood plan is likely to have an effect on sites of European importance and therefore will require an assessment for future development. In assessing whether an HRA is likely to be required, the council will consult statutory consultees Historic England, Natural England and the Environment Agency. The borough council will feed back the conclusions of its HRA screening exercise to the parish council or neighbourhood forum. Where a neighbourhood plan requires a habitats regulations assessment, work on this should start at the same time that work starts on developing the neighbourhood plan. Those preparing the plan are responsible for its production and it must form part of the material that is consulted on once the formal consultation stage is reached. The HRA will be part of the submission documents submitted to the independent examiner.
Where a neighbourhood plan does not require a habitats regulations assessment the qualifying body should submit a statement stating this.
Once a neighbourhood plan has been formally made, the parish council or neighbourhood forum may choose to review and modify their neighbourhood plan.
The extent of proposed changes will determine what happens next. There are three categories of changes:
Where the proposed changes are minor, the neighbourhood plan will not need to go to examination or referendum. The neighbourhood plan can be amended by the LPA and formally made.
Where the proposed changes are material with no change to the nature of the plan, the neighbourhood plan will need to undertake consultation, be subject to examination, but will not be subject to referendum before being formally made. An example of a material change is the addition of new material or an amendment to existing policies.
Where the proposed changes are material with a change to the nature of the plan, the neighbourhood plan will need to undertake consultation, be subject to examination, be subject to referendum before being formally made.
Minor changes may be made at any time by the LPA with consent from the qualifying body. Material changes will require the modification plan to return to the pre-submission publicity stage and start from there. Also a modification statement is required. This is written by the qualifying body and should state and give reasons if modifications are significant or substantial enough to change the nature of the plan.