Successful referendum? What next? Advice on monitoring neighbourhood plans
So you finally reach your referendum day, all goes well and the neighbourhood plan receives a big yes vote from the local community. Job done, time to get a life again? Wrong. Well do get a life again, but now you have your plan in place you need to ensure that its policies and aspirations become reality.
This will not just happen. Busy and stressed development management teams have a lot of local and government policy to consider, and your neighbourhood plan could get lost in an avalanche of other policy. Even if Local Planning Authority (LPA) staff are working with your neighbourhood plan as a guide, you are the experts on it! Your Forum or Parish Council and steering group know it as no one else does. You nurtured, reviewed and altered it over its long gestation into a full, legal policy document. You can offer assistance with interpreting the policies in your plan that will be genuinely valued by the planning authority.
So get into the habit of responding to each planning application in your neighbourhood are with a response setting out in what ways the proposal complies with your NP’s policies, and where it doesn’t. Consider what could be altered in the proposed development so that the application did comply, and ask for this to be incorporated and the proposals changed. If the application can’t be made acceptable, set out the reasons why you consider the development proposed is not complying with the plan and needs to be refused.
You can start to respond to planning applications before your neighbourhood plan has been formally made, but be aware that until it has been submitted to the LPA it has very little planning weight. When you have an examination report that states it may proceed to referendum, your plan becomes more important, and then is the time to ensure you are responding to applications with reference to policy in your plan.
Set a regular time period for a review of your neighbourhood plan; annually, or perhaps biannually for smaller parishes. Use your responses on planning applications, and an assessment of how far the LPA has taken them into consideration, as an indicator of your success in getting policies implemented. From this work you can also begin to identify policies that are not working so well, and not influencing development proposals as you intended. Speaking with development management at the LPA is likely to be very helpful with regard to assessing why a policy may not be working as intended.
If you have allocated sites in your plan, monitoring includes considering whether permissions have been granted, or even a start made on site. Was the form of the development, type of houses etc as you wanted it to be, mostly as you wanted it, or not very similar to guidance in the plan? Has a tree protection policy resulted in mature trees being preserved on development sites, and perhaps new tree planting as well? Are your policies assisting local business start-ups and protecting community facilities? How to assess the success of each policy will depend on what it aims to do.
Problems with a policy may be due to drafting errors, or may be due to national or local plan policy changing and making some policy in your neighbourhood plan out of date. Keeping up to date with changes in the development plan of your LPA is something you should do. Keeping up to date with court decisions and national guidance is rather too much for many voluntary groups and parish councils. With this aspect of neighbourhood plan review you could usefully request that your LPA advise you of any alterations in national planning policy and practice that impact on policies in your plan. Alternatively you could commission a simple review of your plan and the wider local and national policy context if you suspect its effectiveness is slipping.
If your monitoring indicates implementation problems are emerging, then you should consider reviewing your plan. Take heart from recent changes in the regulations for neighbourhood plans that mean the review process should be simpler by the end of this year, and put all that useful expertise you learnt last time to good use again!
Liz Beth (MRTPI) Neighbourhood Planning Consultant