Part of the land due to be developed as part of the 1,000 homes scheme

Uckfield needs to weigh pros and cons of a Neighbourhood Plan

Any town or parish council has some serious issues to weigh before deciding whether to go ahead with a Neighbourhood Plan, writes Paul Watson.

The thought of ten per cent extra on CIL money (see story here) might seem tempting but any plan has many hoops to jump through.

The Localism Act 2011 established a new tier to the planning system called Neighbourhood Planning.

It is designed to give communities with a more direct way of shaping future development in their area.

Uses of a Neighbourhood Plan

Wealden District Council says on its website that Neighbourhood Planning can be used, specifically, to:

  • Establish general planning policies for the development and use of land in a neighbourhood. These are described legally as ‘neighbourhood development plans.’
  •  Permit the development they want to see – in full or in outline – without the need for planning applications. These are called ‘neighbourhood development orders.’
  •  A specific type of ‘neighbourhood development order’ is the ‘community right to build order’. These can be used to bring forward small scale developments (e.g. not exceeding 10 per cent of allocated development over a 10 year period) without the need to apply for planning permission. For example, communities may wish to build new affordable homes or new community amenities.

However, there are limits to any neighbourhood plan. It must conform to national planning policy, the district council’s Local Plan and any EU obligations (such as the habitats directive which applies to the Ashdown Forest). In Uckfield’s case this means a Neighbourhood Plan could not tear up the plans for 1,000 homes to the south and west of the town.

Wealden District Council lists five key stages to neighbourhood planning. As a statutory document, the neighbourhood plan is expected to take between 18 months and 2 years to produce.

Stage 1: Defining the neighbourhood

In areas such as Wealden with a parish or town council, the parish or town council will take the lead on neighbourhood planning, aided by Wealden District Council.

Stage 2: Preparing the plan

Next, parish or town councils will begin collecting their ideas together and drawing up their plans. Local planning authorities (Wealden DC) have a ‘duty to support’ in terms of agreeing the area covered, providing general guidance and advice on the shape and content of the Plan, and finally validating whether the plan is in line with the strategic objectives of the Local Plan.

Stage 3: Independent check

Once a neighbourhood plan or order has been prepared, an independent examiner will check that it meets the correct basic standards through an Examination. An Examination report will be released which may contain requirements for modifications.

Stage 4: Community referendum

The local planning authority (Wealden DC) will organise a referendum on any plan or order that meets the correct standards. This ensures that the community has the final say on whether a neighbourhood plan or order comes into force. If a simple majority of those who vote support the plan, then it comes into force.

Stage 5: Legal force

Once a neighbourhood plan is in force, it carries real legal weight and is a statutory document. Wealden DC will remain the decision maker but will be obliged, by law, to take what it says into account when considering proposals for development in the neighbourhood. understands that because so few Neighbourhood Plans have been produced that it is difficult to put a precise cost on the project but some suggestions are that plans for a town the size of Uckfield could cost “six figures”.

The carrot of the extra CIL money in Uckfield’s case may seem attractive and a good enough reason to prepare a Neighbourhood Plan.

However, if the developer submits and gains outline planning application for the 1,000-homes site, before the Neighbourhood Plan is in force, the council would not get the 25 per cent rate of CIL.

Elected councillors may also consider the “political” effect of a Neighbourhood Plan – at the moment town and parish councillors can “point the finger” at the district council for planning decisions. A Neighbourhood Plan could make them more accountable for such decisions.

See also:

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