Neighbourhood planning is an important part of the Government’s localism agenda and the powers and regulations relating to neighbourhood planning were enacted in the Localism Act 2011 and came into effect in April 2012. The process for developing a neighbourhood plan is a lengthy one. The key stages are:
In areas with a parish or town council, the parish or town council will take the lead on neighbourhood planning and the first action required is to apply to the local planning authority for designation of the neighbourhood area. For Godalming this means Godalming Town Council and we applied to Waverley Borough Council for the designation of the whole of the Town Council’s administrative area in March 2013. The neighbourhood area was designated on 16 July 2013.
(Godalming is approaching the end of this stage and is drafting its plan.)
A neighbourhood plan must follow some basic ground rules:
- it must generally be in line with local and national planning policies;
- it must be in line with other laws;
- if the local planning authority says that an area needs to grow, then communities cannot use neighbourhood planning to block the building of new homes and businesses; they can, however, use neighbourhood planning to influence the type, design, location and mix of new development;
- neighbourhood plans must contribute to achieving sustainable development.
With a neighbourhood plan, communities are able to establish general planning policies for the development and use of land in a neighbourhood. They will be able to say, for example, where new homes and offices should be built, and what they should look like. The neighbourhood plan will set a vision for the future. It can be detailed, or general, depending on what local people want.
Once a neighbourhood plan or order has been prepared, an independent examiner will check that it meets the right basic standards.
If the plan or order doesn’t meet the right standards, the examiner will recommend changes. The local planning authority will then need to consider the examiner’s views and decide whether to make those changes.
If the examiner recommends significant changes, then the parish or town council may decide to consult the local community again before proceeding.
The local planning authority will be responsible for organising a referendum on a neighbourhood plan that meets the basic standards. This ensures that the community has the final say on whether a neighbourhood plan or order comes into force. It is planned that the Godalming & Farncombe Neighbourhood Plan will be tested by referendum in May 2016.
People living in the neighbourhood who are registered to vote in local elections will be entitled to vote in the referendum.
If more than 50% of people voting in the referendum support the neighbourhood plan then the local planning authority must bring it into force.
Once a neighbourhood plan is in force following a successful referendum, it carries real legal weight. Decision makers are obliged to consider proposals for development in the neighbourhood against the neighbourhood plan.