How local plans treat neighbourhood plans

29 June 2019

The other day, one of our local plan learning groups looked at how local plans deal with neighbourhood plans being prepared within their area.

As a generality, local plans seem to either ignore neighbourhood plans altogether, without even acknowledging that they are being prepared; or to try to limit their freedom by asserting that all or most local plan policies are strategic policies. The latter approach is certainly not consistent with national policy in the revised NPPF, which says at paragraph 21 about strategic policies:

“These should be limited to those necessary to address the strategic priorities of the area (and any relevant cross-boundary issues), to provide a clear starting point for any non-strategic policies that are needed. Strategic policies should not extend to detailed matters that are more appropriately dealt with through neighbourhood plans or other non-strategic policies.”

However, there are good examples, where local plans clearly recognise the role to be played by neighbourhood plans, particularly where made NDPs include site allocations or plans in preparation intend to. Herefordshire and Mid Sussex have strongly encouraged parish councils to prepare neighbourhood plans, with the ambition that they should bring forward most development sites: though in Mid Sussex parish councils have shown limited appetite for allocating housing sites, and the District Council has had to fall back on a site allocations DPD to so.

The Vale of Aylesbury local plan sets out most strategic site allocations, though a neighbourhood plan for Buckingham will do so there; and says that growth in rural locations will come through neighbourhood plans in most cases. There is also a separate section of the plan on the role of neighbourhood plans in delivery of the strategy.

The Part 1 Local Plan for Lewes (akin to a core strategy) allocates some strategic sites, and provides a housing target for each significant settlement. Where neighbourhood plans are made or being prepared, the submitted Part 2 Local Plan does not seek to allocate sites, restricting itself to allocations where now neighbourhood plans are on the stocks.

On the matter of strategic policies, the submitted Huntingdonshire local plan is explicit that the whole section on strategy and site allocations are strategic policies, as are policies for affordable housing and design. Interestingly, the submitted Thanet local plan says that main site allocations are strategic policies, but some smaller allocations are non-strategic policies, and could therefore be changed by subsequent neighbourhood plans.

The learning group discussion brought out three matters which ought to be considered when preparing local plans. First, the local plan should provide information about neighbourhood planning, by making it clear that neighbourhood plans are part of the development plan alongside the local plan, say where they have been made or are under preparation, and indicate their role in delivery.

Second, local plans should say how risks to delivery will be managed. Where site allocations in neighbourhood plans will play a material role in delivery of strategy, the local plan should consider the possibility that those plans may not progress or be delayed, and say how the LPA will deal with such a situation. One solution is to programme a site allocations DPD which can bring forward allocations where NDPs do not progress adequately.

Third, local plans should address the effect of latest plan prevails. Where a local plan is adopted and neighbourhood plans have already been made, detailed policies in the local plan will outweigh neighbourhood plan policies for those topics. This could undo the hard work of the qualifying body in developing such local policy. Local plans need to be clear where local policy will override neighbourhood plan policy and where the latter will continue to apply. This might be done by a policy which states that in specified neighbourhood plan areas, particular local plan policies will not apply.

by Andrew Wright

Category Planning general