Neighbourhood Planning event at Highnam - summary

Thanks to all who attended and contributed to lively discussions at the informative Neighbourhood Planning event on 6th June.  This was an event jointly hosted by GRCC, CPRE and GAPTC and allowed consideration of recent research conducted by Place Studio into how 'made' plans are being used.  Workshops also allowed attendees to consider how to add value and local detail on green infrastructure and heritage, how to make use of their NDP once 'made' and also tackled the thorny issues of settlement boundaries and allocating sites. 

Key points - from the research

  • The overall findings were generally fairly positive with made NDPs appearing to be succeeding in stopping predatory planning applications (probably more so than Local Pans).
  • Plan-compliant applications seem to be getting through but it is not clear whether proposals are better or how much made NDPs add to what is in the Local Plan, especially on locally distinctive design.
  • There is mixed news on how local authorities handle NDPs once made, both in terms of what they do and how robustly they do it.  Some Team Leaders (and Neighbourhood Planning Officers) were providing clear, consistent guidance and encouragement to use made NDPs, while others seem to be more laissez-faire.  Development Management Case Officers all appear to know and use made NDPs.
  • There are concerns about what NDPs add to Local Plans - the quality, hence usability, of some policies, the length of some NDPs, and issues around judgement and weighting.
  • The key conclusion from the response from Parish/Town Councils is an over-estimation of the clout of made plans and frustration with a general lack of useful contact with Development Management Officers.

Workshop - Landscape, Heritage and Green Infrastructure Issues in your Neighbourhood Plan

  • A robust evidence base is required to back up policies
  • Make use of evidence already available - e.g. from local authority commissioned research.
  • Work out what you want the policy to achieve before getting into the detail of wording.
  • Policies must relate to a specific location within the NDP, or a specific development type or be applicable to the whole area.
  • Is there already a policy in the Local Plan or National Planning Policy Framework?  The NDP can always refer to the Local Plan policy but does not need to repeat it.  Ask yourself:
    • Are your policies filling gaps that are not covered by the Local Plan (and NPPF)?
    • Are your policies providing the local context and the fine-tuning?
    • Are your policies needed?

Workshop - Making use of 'made' plans

  • Well done for completing it but be aware as no plan is perfect and no plan is 100% successful (nor should it be), although good NDPs seem to do well.
  • Talk to your local authority case officers about their Local Plan review and agree appropriate timing for a review of your NDP.  Don't put off the review.
  • 'Get in first' on responses to planning applications - some NDPs now include a pre-application protocol.

Workshop - Allocating sites and settlement boundaries

  • Settlement boundaries have to be drawn up in the context of the Local Plan, and don't draw them too tightly.  The 'character' basis for settlement boundary may allow more flexibility than the 'line on the map'.
  • Any site allocations must be backed be sound and robust evidence.
  • These are complex areas and you must talk and work with your local authority.

General messages

  • There are clearly process issues with NDPs and particular concerns over the examinations.
  • Experience varies per local authority area but good partnership working between the NDP groups and local authority is vital.
  • A shortage of planning resources in local authorities is an increasing concern.
  • A message for government - NDPs are important and have clear potential, but there is need for more guidance to get the most out of the process.

The full workshop report will be made available to delegates in the coming week.  Thanks to our workshop presenters - Jeff Bishop and Vaughan Thompson (Place Studio) and Sophia Price (Cotswold District Council).