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Blog: Neighbourhood plans in an existential world


Neighbourhood plans: what’s not to like?

Local communities having a say in what is developed in their local patch. Localism empowered; development embraced. Take this vision from the adopted Exeter St James Neighbourhood Plan:
“St James will be known for its strong community, rich urban character, attractive green streets and thriving natural environment. St James will be known... as one of the best parts of the city in which to live.” 
Sounds good. But for a neighbourhood plan to be legally and policy compliant it must be in general conformity with the strategic policies of the Local Plan. As we still have vast swathes of the country without an up-to-date Local Plan, how can a neighbourhood plan meet this requirement? Difficult. 
In the Tattenhall & District Neighbourhood Plan, objections were raised to Policy 1 requiring individual developments to be limited to 30 dwellings. Local Plan Policy HO1 which previously set out policies relating to the scale of development lapsed in 2009. Nigel McGurk, the independent examiner, reported: 
“A number of house builders with specific reference to lapsed Policy HO1 of the adopted Chester District Local Plan agreed with one another that Policy 1 did not meet the Basic Conditions because it could not be in general conformity with a policy that doesn’t exist. Whilst I have read Sartre, I struggled a little with the existentialist nature of this. However, after contemplation with a cold towel on my head, I am satisfied that being in general conformity with something that doesn’t exist is not a test relevant to this examination.”
Any examination that involves the philosophical musings of Jean‑Paul Sartre is of course to be welcomed. And the Wikipedia definition of existentialism: “a sense of disorientation in the face of an apparently meaningless or absurd world” describes many aspects of the planning system. 
Back to Tattenhall: Mr McGurk said the plan should proceed to a referendum. Several house builders have rushed to the High Court to obtain an injunction against Cheshire West & Chester Council suspending a ballot on the Tattenhall Neighbourhood Plan. 
By contrast, the examiner into the Dawlish Parish Neighbourhood Plan reported that it should only proceed to a referendum once the strategic policies of Teignbridge District Council had been settled. 
Until councils get their Local Plans in order and up-to-date, neighbourhood plans will continue to struggle to proceed to adoption. Compliance with a plan that doesn’t exist? Perhaps a step too far even for Jean‑Paul Sartre.
Peter Taylor is partner and head of planning at DLA Piper. Amber Nixon is a trainee solicitor at DLA Piper.



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