Develop a good working relationship with the LPA to deliver a successful neighbourhood plan

Posted on 26 July 2017 (Permalink)
Local Planning Authorities (LPAs) are responsible for being actively involved in supporting and assisting neighbourhood planning groups with the preparation of their neighbourhood plan. In many LPAs there is an officer dedicated to neighbourhood planning whose role it is to provide technical advice on planning to parish councils and/or neighbourhood forums in order to support the preparation of a successful plan that meets the ‘basic conditions’.  Only a neighbourhood plan that meets each of the ‘basic conditions’ can be put to a referendum and, if successful, be used to assist in the determination of planning applications.

The ‘basic conditions’ for neighbourhood plans are that they should:

•             Be drawn up with regard to national planning policies and guidance issued by the Government

•             Contribute to the achievement of sustainable development

•             Generally conform with the strategic policies in the Local Plan for the area

•             Do not breach, and are otherwise compatible with, EU legislation

I have worked closely with and supported a number of neighbourhood planning groups and, in my experience, a good working relationship between the LPA and neighbourhood planning groups is essential in terms of meeting the ‘basic conditions’, particularly as the LPA has a statutory duty to identify the ‘strategic policies’ that the neighbourhood plan should be in general conformity with. It is vital for neighbourhood planning groups to keep communication channels open with the LPA. Don’t leave it to the point of submission to find that the plan is not in conformity with national or local policies or has not met other legal requirements.

There are many benefits of maintaining a good working relationship for both the neighbourhood planning group and the LPA. The benefits for the LPA can include the involvement of a resource to identify ways of bringing investment and regeneration to disadvantaged neighbourhoods. The benefits for the group can include an increase in CIL revenue, improved understanding of the decision making process and development management decisions.

A number of LPA’s in the UK, such as South Holland District Council, Chichester District Council and Test Valley Borough Council have pro-actively produced detailed guidance to aid neighbourhood planning groups with tackling the technical preparation of their plans. The guidance goes beyond the statutory requirements that LPA’s have a duty to follow, including providing helpful information on establishing an evidence base and preparing for public consultations, which helps to ensure that plans are fit for purpose and well prepared, bearing in mind that the neighbourhood plan will form part of the development plan and will be used by the LPA to help determine planning applications. The guidance also clearly states what the LPA’s statutory obligations are, the provision of professional advice (including employing consultants to assist with plan writing), and how the LPA will respond to the draft neighbourhood plan.

As well as producing detailed guidance it is vital that LPAs organise regular face to face meetings with neighbourhood groups to discuss and explain more detailed technical matters, and to maintain a good communications. For example, this could include discussing the inclusion of Local Green Spaces as a policy in a neighbourhood plan, how the group should assess potential sites for inclusion and contacting landowners of Local Green Spaces. Clear advice on technical policy areas such as Local Green Spaces will assist the group with ensuring that the end policy is clear and achieves its objective.

The above highlights the importance of effective engagement between the LPA and neighbourhood plan group during plan preparation to ensure that the neighbourhood plan operates successfully and effectively when it forms part of the development plan.  For further information on this topic see the UpFront video Working with your Local Planning Authority . Additionally, the latest (July) UpFront video featuring Ian McKay, Neighbourhood Planning Manager at Leeds City Council, provides an excellent example of a strong working relationship between the LPA and neighbourhood planning groups across the city.  

Emma Betteridge is a Senior Planner (Strategy and Regeneration) at Fareham Borough Council.  She has worked with neighbourhood planning groups in Basingstoke and with a neighbourhood forum in Fareham.