Neighbourhood Plans: Success and Scrutiny

Last week saw Ministers launch the ‘Make a plan. Make a difference’ campaign, designed to encourage communities to take up and participate in neighbourhood planning.

The campaign is being promoted across various social media channels by Brandon Lewis MP, Housing & Planning Minister, and is supported by a series of posters displayed prominently on the London Underground.  

Neighbourhood planning allows people to decide the future development of their area, including where new homes and businesses should be built. Nearly 1,400 areas, representing 6 million people across England, are already using their neighbourhood planning powers, with others looking to follow suit.

A Neighbourhood Plan works by forming part of the statutory Development Plan for that area, so any decisions about planning permission in the neighbourhood area must be made in accordance.


‘A force for localism’

Recently South Lakeland District Council (SLDC) permitted Heversham and Hincaster parishes to move forward with their Neighbourhood Plan to an ‘examination’ stage – the next step before a referendum and then adoption if the community votes in favour.

Local ward member, Cllr Roger Bingham welcomed SLDC’s decision to allow the Heversham and Hincaster Neighbour Plan to progress to examination. He explained that:

“The initiative stemmed from the intensive opposition to SLDC’s Local Development Plan which recommended about one hundred new houses in the Heversham village part of the parish. This was widely considered to be too many.”

It is clear that communities are increasingly viewing Neighbourhood Plans as a force for localism. Parish Council's relish the opportunity to ensure their concerns are sensitively considered in planning decisions. Because this allows for the inclusion of the local community, the expectation is that potentially controversial changes will be more harmonious and positive.

In addition to the increased influence, parishes with a Neighbourhood Plan will also receive a much needed increase in funding via the Community Infrastructure Levy (money earmarked for local infrastructure). They will receive 25 per cent of any Community Infrastructure Levy arising from developments in the area, as opposed to 15 per cent for those that do not have a Neighbourhood Plan.

Neighbourhood plans have however increasingly become the subject of legal action, as developers seek to reverse decisions made by local communities that limit development on their sites.

‘Superficial examination’

Developers pursuing litigation against Neighbourhood Plans argue that the legislation only provides a superficial amount of scrutiny of the plans prior to local referenda.

Lawyers are challenging the Newick Neighbourhood Plan in East Sussex at the Court of Appeal. They are quick to identify the fact that parish councils, working alongside the local authority, can choose who examines their Neighbourhood Plan. Unsurprisingly, because the plan-making authority has selected its own examiner, the suggestion is that examiners were appointed on the basis of their track record of passing Neighbourhood Plans and therefore indicating a biased process.

It proves harder to refute the claim of superficial examination when it’s considered that 98.7 per cent of Neighbourhood Plans pass examination (compiled 17/05/16 by Development Control Services). There is reason to believe that the high percentage of Neighbourhood Plans which pass examination is evidence of a lack of scrutiny, whether that be because of the low threshold required by the examination or other reasons.

Those involved will be looking the Court of Appeal case carefully, considering the neighbourhood planning process is at stake. What is certain, is that whatever the precedent set by the court, localism will remain on the Government’s agenda given their launch of the ‘Make a plan. Make a difference’ campaign.

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This article was written by Account Executive, Oliver Pearce.