Policy and Legislation update March/April 2018
Planning Legislation & Policy Update
The new Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) has been busy recently introducing new sets of regulations and guidance that are important for neighbourhood planning.
Neighbourhood planning guidance has been revised to explain the new plan updating procedures – i.e. where a plan has been prepared and “made” by the local planning authority and the group that prepared it want to update part(s) rather than prepare a totally new neighbourhood plan. Importantly, where updates are proposed and do not significantly change the nature of the plan, the Examiner’s report will be binding - and providing the updated plan meets the basic condition tests there will be no requirement to hold a new referendum.
A further reform will come into force on 31 July requiring local planning authorities to set out the support they will give to neighbourhood plan groups in their area. This will be included in their ‘Statement of Community Involvement’, a document which all local authorities have to produce to clarify how they will involve and consult people on local planning applications and in plan making.
Reforms have also recently come into force for Local Plans that are useful for neighbourhood plan groups. These require local planning authorities to identify their strategic priorities and the policies to address them, and require them to keep their plans up to date. Local Plans should cover a period spanning 15 years ahead and be reviewed regularly at least every five years.
A draft set of revisions to the 2012 National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) has been published for consultation by MHCLG – it is inviting responses by 10th May. Neighbourhood planning remains a key theme in the document. A final version will be published later this year – probably in late Summer. Areas of particular neighbourhood planning interest include:
1. Confirmation of the important protection from speculative development for neighbourhood plans for two years after a plan is successful at referendum where they contain policies for housing and allocate sites for housing development to meet local needs.
2. A proposed new requirement on local authorities to provide a housing requirement figure or indicative figure for designated neighbourhood planning areas.
3. Recognition of the important role that neighbourhood plans can play in identifying the special qualities of each area and explaining how this should be reflected in development.
4. Groups are encouraged to consider including design code policies in their neighbourhood plans.
5. Groups are also encouraged to consider in particular which local small sites might be suitable for development in their plan.
6. A distinction is now included between ‘strategic policies’ and ‘local policies’. Strategic policies will be prepared by local authorities and included in their Local Plan to address the strategic priorities for their area - to provide a clear starting point for local policies that may be needed. Local policies can then come forward either as part of the authority’s local plan - or via a neighbourhood plan.
7. Where a need for changes to Green Belt boundaries has been demonstrated through strategic policies in a local plan, detailed amendments to Green Belt boundaries can then be made through local policies – i.e. proposed changes can now be included in neighbourhood plans as well as in local plans.
Written Ministerial Statement on Neighbourhood Plans
If you are still reading, bear with us, this is important too…through a Written Ministerial Statement (WMS) on 12 December, 2016 the government clarified that where a neighbourhood plan which is less than two years old and allocates sites for housing, and the Local Planning Authority are able to demonstrate a three supply of housing, then decisions on planning applications and appeals should give significant weight to the neighbourhood plan – i.e. notwithstanding as previously, the fact that the local planning authority cannot demonstrate a 5-year supply of deliverable housing sites.
This WMS was judicially reviewed by a group of 25 developers on grounds which included that the WMS is illogical and unreasonable and that there was an expectation of consultation. Hearings were held at the beginning of November last year and the judgment was handed down in January in favour of the Government on all counts, so the WMS continues to apply.