Cringleford: a case study about neighbourhood planning in a growth area

Backgroundgeograph_045444_by_Katy_Walters

Cringleford is a village on the outskirts of Norwich which has experienced significant growth over recent decades and has been allocated a further 1,200 homes.

Cringleford Parish Council has always taken an active role in contributing to key planning decisions in their village. For this reason, when the Front Runner scheme was announced in early 2011, the local planning authority, South Norfolk Council, suggested the scheme to the parish council.

Although sceptical at first about the value of neighbourhood planning, Cringleford Parish Council soon realised that it could bring real benefits for the village and make the opinions of residents more fundamental than ever.

Choosing the boundary

It was decided that the neighbourhood plan boundary should include the existing village as well as neighbouring areas currently being developed (with 1,000 additional homes) and those identified for future development (with 1,200 additional homes). By drawing such a boundary, the neighbourhood plan would be able to fulfil a core aim of creating a well integrated and well designed settlement with shared facilities.

Structuring the plan

After gathering a lot of data through holding various public events and hand delivering a questionnaire to every house in the parish, there was a lot of analysis to be done. Five key areas were identified:geograph_045448_by_Katy_Walters

  • Environment
  • Housing
  • Local economy
  • Society, community and culture
  • Transport

Each area was delegated to a group who had some experience or interest in that area.

When writing the plan’s policies, it was important to have an iterative policy writing process. This involved speaking directly with South Norfolk Council, Norfolk County Council, land owners, statutory consultees and of course the local residents.

By responding to all the comments received, ideas could be honed and grounded in order that the policies could stand up when the plan went to examination. See how the plan was structured (pdf).

Writing the housing policiesgeograph_1953124_by_Evelyn_Simak

Cringleford’s major motivation for drawing up a neighbourhood plan was to influence the major development that was assigned to their area. Since neighbourhood plans must conform to all plans at the national, regional and local level, it was necessary for 1,200 homes to be included within the plan.

However, the parish was able to influence development in other ways (policy numbers refer to the plan):

  • Sites where the residents would like to see housing, schools, business uses etc (see for example policy SCC 1)
  • A green buffer zone between new housing and major roads (see policies ENV 1 and 2)
  • An average maximum density of 25 dwellings per hectare (see policy HOU 3)
  • An allowance for open space, services and infrastructure within new developments (see policy HOU 2)

It is important for there to be clear and effective communication with local residents. For instance, the parish council found that it was sometimes difficult to make it clear that the neighbourhood plan must conform with any other plan which relates to the area.

By making this clear from the outset, residents can learn what neighbourhood plans can and cannot achieve, and more realistic and useful suggestions can be gathered. And the involvement of residents continued through to referendum, where the Cringleford Neighbourhood Plan attracted strong support (93% voted yes).

Challenges along the way

There was particular uncertainty surrounding the future of a major interchange, the Thickthorn roundabout, which lies on the edge of the parish. Its future could have major implications for the development of a strategic site. In the end, it was decided that the neighbourhood plan was not the place to tackle such a large-scale issue so one of the transport policies simply refers to the situation and suggests that future developers tackle the issue.

While many public bodies were keen to be of assistance throughout the process, others needed more encouragement. It is important to contact all relevant public bodies as soon as possible and to keep in contact throughout.

Taking the plan to examinationgeograph_1969722_by_N_Chadwick

The group were concerned about the formality and pressure of an examination but were pleasantly surprised by the unceremonious and straight forward way in which it was tackled. It all felt very fair. Ten days later the examiner issued his report (pdf) which detailed a few ways in which the policies needed to be reworded or modified.

Overall, the examiner was impressed by the way that the parish council had approached the process and in particular their wealth of thorough, meaningful and well recorded consultation. The examiner also liked the accessible format of the plan, colour-coded and divided into five topic groups.

Top tips

Thanks to the neighbourhood plan, the parish councillors have noticed a significant increase in understanding and interest in planning. Residents and councillors alike are feeling positive about the process and their contribution to the future of Cringleford.

Cringleford Parish Council would offer the following advice to other neighbourhood planning groups:

  • Build a positive working relationship with your local authority. Their wealth of knowledge and experience can be a valuable tool
  • Generally, write topic-specific rather than site specific policies. This means that the policies can be referred to for any planning application
  • Keep in contact with other neighbourhood planning groups, especially those that are further ahead in the process
  • Think about how to structure and present your plan so that it's clear and easy to understand

Many thanks to Anne Barnes, Clerk of Cringleford Parish Council, and her interviewer PAE volunteer Lara Emerson for their help with this case study. These case studies are produced by Planning Aid England as part of the Supporting Communities in Neighbourhood Planning programme, funded by the Department for Communities and Local Government and delivered by a consortium led by Locality.

Photo credits