Felpham Neighbourhood Plan: a case study about using and reviewing your neighbourhood plan

beachBackground

About 10,000 people currently live in Felpham, West Sussex, a village of around 4-5,000 homes. Located near Bognor Regis, Felpham is an ancient village mentioned in the Domesday Book which grew rapidly during the 1920s-1940s when its coastal location made it a popular holiday destination.

Housing in Felpham is varied, ranging from homes in the old heart of the village to estates from the 1920s-40s and 1950s-1960s and, more recently, 770 new homes under construction in “Blake’s Mead” to the north of the village. You can read more about Felpham in their plan, but, in summary, important features include:

  • Vibrant village heart with services and a mix of housing
  • Listed buildings including barns and distinctive flint buildings
  • Well-used open spaces
  • Location: near the South Downs National Park, and close to the sea front.

Why a neighbourhood plan?

Local people were keen for any further new housing to be integrated well into the village, and for it to meet the needs of the community (which includes a big retirement population as well as lots of young families), although only windfall sites are available and Felpham’s strategic housing allocation in Arun District Council’s Local Plan is zero (this is currently at publication stage, see p154). They also wanted benefits from future development to come back to the village (here is a briefing note which explains how neighbourhood planning and the community infrastructure levy work), for example they had seen how the new housing estate at Blake’s Mead will create a new road around the north of the village, which is hoped will improve congestion in the centre.

coastal_greenswardOther reasons included the opportunity to:

  • Designate local green space (see paragraph 76 of the National Planning Policy Framework which explains what this is)
  • Identify local open space (not a statutory designation)
  • Set out community aspirations for the sea front and conservation area
  • Protect employment sites to safeguard jobs and services for the community

Producing the plan

In summary, the Felpham Neighbourhood Plan was produced like this, starting in November 2011 and going to referendum in July 2014:

  • Formation of Parish Council committee of six to start work on a neighbourhood plan
  • Public meetings held to raise awareness
  • Neighbourhood Plan Committee formed, made up of five parish councillors plus five lay people to bring in a valuable mix of skills and expertise
  • Sub groups started to draft plan, displaying ideas and draft policies at open meetings
  • Consultancy support was taken on to write the plan, with the chair and vice chair reviewing and editing, with the support of the Committee throughout
  • Community consultation on the draft plan showed that the majority of respondents were over 65, so specific engagement work was carried out with schools and the college to seek the views of young people
  • Planning consultant engaged to turn policies into robust planning speak so that they would fit clearly into the Arun planning framework
  • Draft plan reviewed and revised, with support from the LPA and Planning Aid England all working together
  • Examination, modifications following examiner’s report and referendum.

What happens next?

It’s important not to see a successful referendum as the end of your neighbourhood plan. In a way, it’s the starting point: it now needs to be used. The Felpham committee felt strongly that they did not want to see the plan sitting in a drawer, they wanted to see it used and also to take forward some of the issues in it or that came up as part of the process of producing it.

houses_on_sea_frontA key outcome is that the Parish Council planning committee has been “upgraded” following the production of the plan. For example,

  • Members have received training in using the plan from the consultant who helped write it
  • Laminated copies of all the policies in the Plan have been issued to members for use at meetings, as a reminder of the issues that have been identified as important by the community
  • Members are using new forms when they make and record their decisions, which relate to the Plan
  • New technology is being used during meetings to display the Plan, its maps and policies on a screen
  • The Clerk, who was also involved in writing the Plan, is now more involved in planning committee meetings and their preparation
  • There will be an annual review of the Plan to see how it’s being used.

As well as this:

  • The non-land use planning policies are to be taken forward as a community action plan
  • The team who produced the plan, using their interest in and experience of planning, are now engaged in producing a community resilience plan which will cover issues such as responding to flooding
  • A design statement was taken out from the draft plan because it didn’t have sufficient evidence. The Parish Council is funding a consultant, using its precept resources, to revisit this, gather evidence and produce a new design statement which will link to the neighbourhood plan.

It is hoped that these actions will maintain the level of interest in the Felpham Neighbourhood Plan, and help the community see how it is being used in practice.

churchTop tips

  • Form a strong working group and keep it together. This will help keep the plan on track.
  • Develop a good working relationship with your LPA. They will be the ones using your plan once it’s in place so listen to their advice, especially about the wording of policies.
  • Involve someone with planning expertise, especially at the policy writing stage where technical expertise is needed, to ensure robust policies are produced.
  • If you use a consultant to help draft, keep a tight rein on this through your committee or steering group: the aim is to ensure the plan is still owned by the parish or town council, or neighbourhood forum, and is integrated with the community but benefits from professional advice and input.
  • Be flexible in the way you engage with communities and be prepared to target specific groups if your engagement shows they are not coming forward through activities you’ve organised so far.
  • Keep learning – from your community, from other groups, from existing neighbourhood plans etc.
  • Be prepared to explain over and over again why you’re doing a neighbourhood plan – it’s not enough just to say it at the start and expect people to remember. For example, you could use a regular monthly slot in a newsletter to keep people updated.

Many thanks to Glenn Powell, Chair, Felpham Neighbourhood Plan Committee and Parish Councillor, for his 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.

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