Will communities have the stamina to keep their neighbourhood plans up to date?

Long Wittenham, a South Oxfordshire parish council, is currently battling through a review of its 2017 neighbourhood plan. This month another council just down the road, Henley Town Council, approved an £8,778 contract with Community First Oxfordshire to review its own 2016 neighbourhood plan. One may begin to wonder, if neighbourhood plans must be reviewed only a few of years after passing referendum, will many communities have the stamina to keep their neighbourhood plans up to date?

The idea of neighbourhood planning, when it was introduced through the Localism Act of 2011, was simple: give locals more control of where and how new homes are delivered within their community and they will be more favourable to new homes being delivered. Whether this has worked or not is up for debate. What is not debatable, however, is that neighbourhood plans are a huge commitment of time and money for local communities. Research has shown most neighbourhood plans take 2 to 5 years to create (far exceeding the originally intended 12-18 months). Many communities have fallen into the trap of believing that passing the referendum is the end of this long process. In reality, it is only the beginning of a never-ending cycle of reviews and updates as national and local planning policies change (threatening to make any given neighbourhood plan redundant).

A recent report by National Association of Local Councils pin points the problem: “Neighbourhood plans are at risk of being considered out of date (and therefore triggering the ‘presumption in favour’) when strategic local plans are reviewed, or if local plans that they rely on are considered to be out of date. This means that neighbourhood plans can go out of date literally as soon as they have been adopted, undoing years of community effort. Furthermore, it is hard to envisage many localities being able to generate and sustain the levels of community commitment and investment that would be required to substantially review neighbourhood plans whenever a local plan is changed.”

Joseph Palasz - Account Executive