What can the Dawlish Neighbourhood Plan, the first neighbourhood plan to go to examination tell us?
Well if we were pressed to sum it up in a few words we would say “process, process, process”. And as any of you who have attended our neighbourhood planning training will know the need to follow process has been one of the key points we have made. Failure to follow process could have serious repercussions.
So what can the Dawlish Neighbourhood Plan examination tell us.
Follow the Neighbourhood Planning Regulations
Firstly, that if your ambition as a parish council, or neighbourhood forum, is to have your plan become part of the statutory development framework you must ensure you follow the Neighbourhood Planning (General) Regulations 2012. These Regulations set out the process you have to follow in preparing your plan from seeking designation to become a neighbourhood planning area through to publicising the making of your neighbourhood plan. And the first step here must be to seek that all important neighbourhood planning designation. A key point here for any of the Government’s 233 neighbourhood planning frontrunners is that if you have not already done so you should seek to address this issue now.
Ensure your plan is produced with regard to national planning policy
Secondly, you must ensure your neighbourhood plan is produced with regard to national planning policy, the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). This means:
- Your plan should adopt a positive approach to achieving sustainable development;
- The NPPF sets out a presumption in favour of sustainable development and your plan should contain clear policies on how this presumption will be applied in your area;
- Your neighbourhood plan should set out how you are going to support the strategic development needs set out in your council’s Local Plans, including their policies for housing and economic development;
- Your plan should positively support local development, shaping and directing development in your area that is outside the strategic elements of the local plan.
The importance of making sure your neighbourhood plan satisfies all of the above can be seen from the examiners conclusions on the Dawlish Neighbourhood Plan:
The Dawlish Parish Neighbourhood Plan reflects the NPPF by providing a positive approach to plan-led growth to deliver sustainable development with the aim of producing clear economic, social and environmental benefits. However because of its timing in relation to the production of strategic policies, it is not possible to demonstrate that the provision for housing growth is based on an objective assessment of housing requirements.
Before we look in more detail at the issue of “general community” the examiners comments on the Dawlish Neighbourhood Plan are important in terms of timing. The timing issue here is the preparation of your neighbourhood plan in relation to the preparation of your council’s Local Plan. Clearly, there is a danger of not being able to show your plan supports the strategic development needs of your local council’s Local Plan if this is still at an early stage of preparation.
Make sure your plan is in “general conformity” with the strategic policies of your council’s Local Plan
Thirdly, your neighbourhood plan must be in “general conformity with the strategic policies” of your Council’s Local Plan.
To help you your council should set out clearly their strategic policies for the area. Your task will be to ensure your neighbourhood plan policies and site allocations are in “general conformity” with your local councils strategic policies.
At Dawlish, as we have just seen this was not possible. The local council’s plans were still being prepared. But a key point to pick up here is the way in which emerging neighbourhood plans can be used to shape and influence emerging strategic plans. At Dawlish the examiner noted that the neighbourhood plan and council plans were “in clear conflict”, but as the strategic policies had yet to be settled “it may be possible to resolve these conflicts.”
Meet your legal obligations
Under the Neighbourhood Planning Regulations you will also have to meet appropriate legal obligations. In Dawlish is the neighbourhood plan was going to be a part of the statutory development plan this would have included:
- European Union Habitat Directives
- Human Rights obligations
- Sustainability Appraisal/Strategic Environmental Assessment
- Habitat Regulations Assessment in respect of potential significant affects on the area’s international habitat designations
Finally, we look at consultation process on the Dawlish Neighbourhood Plan. Once again you must meet any requirements in the regulations but how you engage your local community does give you a degree of choice and discretion. Here we would point out that whilst the examiner at Dawlish noted “considerable efforts have been made to engage the community” and that the Steering Group “appears to have reflected a cross section of community interests”, he did note that with the exception of the Chamber of Commerce this did not include landowners and developers.
So whilst you have a lot of scope to look at how you will engage your local community our advice is make this as inclusive and representative as possible.
So process is all important, In the case of Dawlish it meant the difference between going to referendum and having a statutory neighbourhood plan (what they could have had) to having to settle for a non-statutory document that may influence Teinbridge Council’s Local Plan.
Concerned about how the planning process affects your neighbourhood?
Do you need to find out more?
Call Kirkwells on 01282 872570 and we will be happy to discuss neighbourhood planning in your area.
To read the full examiner’s report in to the Dawlish Neighbourhood Plan click here.
And if you are new to all of this why not think about one of our neighbourhood planning training sessions.
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