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14/06/2017

Time for change? Modifying a neighbourhood plan

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Planning / iStock-166225668

With the risk that changes in the broader planning environment can render neighbourhood plans out of date, neighbourhood planing needs to be seen as a continuing process, says Kat Salter

Government support for neighbourhood planning continues with the Neighbourhood Planning Act gaining Royal Assent in April. It includes proposals to speed up and simplify the process, but will they have the intended effect?

Let’s take modification of neighbourhood plans as one example. The law enables a local planning authority (LPA) to modify a plan if the proposed change is minor and will not materially affect planning applications. But it is unlikely that the required revisions to plans will fall into this category, so it is difficult to see the circumstances in which this legislative tweak would apply. 

By last October nearly 40 per cent of neighbourhood plans were ‘made’ in advance of an up-to-date local plan and while communities are encouraged to align their strategies and evidence base with the emerging local plan, it is not imperative. Communities not adopting this sequential approach may find that policies in the emerging local plan override those in their neighbourhood plans and render them out of date.

And for groups that have engaged with an emerging local plan this too may be changed during the examination process. Lichfields found 48 per cent of plans adopted post-NPPF had their housing requirement increased. In the South-East, of the three LPAs with the most ‘made’ neighbourhood plans, one local plan has been withdrawn and two examinations are suspended owing to a shortfall in housing. 

“Engagement in neighbourhood planning needs to be designed, communicated and embraced as a continuing process”

Town planners understand that one is unable to rest on the plan alone and if the LPA cannot demonstrate an adequate housing land supply, neighbourhood plan policies and allocations could also be undermined. 

Many neighbourhood plans are becoming out of date owing to wider changes in planning – including the government’s aim to boost housing. They are likely to require substantial modification, necessitating the neighbourhood to repeat the whole process because the plan needs to speak for the wider community and be robust and deliverable. Funding is available for groups and the LPA to support this process and it should be quicker the second time round – but I doubt that will reassure many about the benefits of neighbourhood planning.

Engagement in neighbourhood planning needs to be designed, communicated and embraced as a continuing process. 

Otherwise, groups could find that over time government and local authority objectives will have more influence and their own willingness to engage may erode.

Kat Salter is an independent consultant and PhD researcher at the University of Reading

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