Tarset and Greystead Neighbourhood Plan: a case study about a design-led plan within an area of planning restriction
Tarset and Greystead is a rural area of 73 square miles, but with a population of only 289. The Parish sits half within Northumberland National Park, and half within Northumberland County Council. The two main settlements of Greenhaugh and Lanehead are both within the National Park.
A steering group has been working on the neighbourhood plan, which comprises entirely volunteers, and has evolved over the years since the plan started, with some members leaving, and new members joining. The group was given delegated authority by Tarset and Greystead Parish Council to produce the neighbourhood plan, and the steering group has had a representative from the parish council.
Why a neighbourhood plan?
The Parish Council decided to produce a neighbourhood plan for the area, because it was felt that the policies in the Northumberland National Park Core Strategy were not strong enough to promote really good quality development in the area. The intention was to build and strengthen existing National Park policy to make it more locally specific to Tarset and Greystead.
There was also a feeling in the local community that too much emphasis was being placed on tourism uses for redundant buildings, and it was felt that there should be more flexibility about how these buildings were used. In addition there was much local concern about recent development approvals which were widely regarded as out of accord with a number of the National Park’s own policies.
The plan aims to promote sustainable development which meets the needs and aspirations of the local community. The vision for the plan summarises what the plan, in essence, is seeking to achieve:
‘To maintain and enhance the special qualities of the landscape and the environment, and the vitality of our community, for current and future generations who live, work in and visit the Parish of Tarset and Greystead’
Design and your neighbourhood plan
For the Tarset and Greystead group, improving the quality and design of development in the neighbourhood plan area was of particular importance. The plan seeks to ensure that:
- New development is focused in appropriate sites within the settlements, and is appropriately designed to reflect the special characteristics of the individual settlements.
- Redundant buildings in the open countryside should be considered for residential use, as well as tourism/economic uses.
- The definition of ‘local needs housing’ for the Parish is redefined.
The plan also seeks to emphasise and define the special qualities of the area not only in landscape terms, but in terms of tranquillity, and the special ‘Dark Skies’ status that the plan area has.
The group felt design was an important issue, and wanted to ensure that all new development or conversions are designed to reflect the special characteristics of the parish. Members of the community felt that some inappropriate new development had been approved in the area, and that clearer, more evidence based design policies should be written for the plan area. It was felt that, with good design policies, better development could be secured in the parish.
How did they tackle design issues in the plan?
A comprehensive Design and Characterisation Evidence Base was commissioned by a local firm of architects and landscape architects (Spence & Dower). The evidence base sought to characterise what was special about the area in terms of the landscape, the design of individual buildings, and the spatial evolution of the settlements, to better inform more detailed design policy.
Representatives from both local planning authorities regularly attended the steering group meetings to provide planning advice. (Both Northumberland County Council and Northumberland National Park Authority are involved because part of the parish lies in the NPA and part of it in the county council area). A planning consultant was used to draft the plan and policies, in consultation and collaboration with the steering group. A firm of architects/landscape architects was commissioned to produce an evidence base for the plan. Planning Aid England also provided advice and assistance, which ensured that the plan continued to progress in a systematic way.
- In an area of special constraint such as a national park there may be a greater need for specialists with a deeper understanding of the local area to support you. The Tarset and Greystead group found that the appointment of a locally based external planning consultant to advise them in matters of an area characterisation study and design guide helped move their plan forward. Always think carefully about when in the process is the right time to do this, and which consultants might be helpful for your group.
- In an area specially designated for particular qualities such as a national park, your vision is likely to need to reflect these special characteristics. For example, in Tarset and Greystead’s plan the vision highlighted the wish to “maintain and enhance the special qualities of the landscape and the environment”. Ensure that the vision and objectives are clearly identified early on in the process. These should also be clearly related to the initial consultation feedback. Be systematic, and don’t get carried away with ideas too early on.
- Ensure that Steering Group members are aware of what a neighbourhood plan can and can’t achieve, and if your group is in an area of special constraint, whether this will affect what they want to do. Steering Group members should be warned that the neighbourhood planning process is not a short one, and anyone thinking it can be done in six months or so should be well briefed that this is not the case!
- Attempt to have a clear understanding of the requirements at the outset, and if your group is in an area of special constraint, identify what impact this will have on your plan. For the Tarset and Greystead group, it was important to collect evidence and collate information over a period of time before clarifying objectives and developing policy. However, on reflection, the group felt that a greater effort should have been made to establish a less pedestrian pace at an earlier stage. Later acceleration was possible as a result of growing familiarity with the required process and, of course, the accumulated material.
Many thanks to Tarset and Greystead Neighbourhood Plan steering group and PAE volunteer Jenny Ludman 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 (thanks to the Tarset and Greystead NP steering group for permission to use photos from their plan)