Archived April 2016. This page will no longer be updated.
This briefing note sets out the local planning authority's role in the independent examination of neighbourhood development plans, taking account of the Neighbourhood Plan Regulations 2012, the 1990 Town and Country Planning Act (as amended) and the Localism Act 2011.
Under the 1990 Act local planning authorities have a statutory duty to advise and assist parish councils and designated neighbourhood forums in the preparation of neighbourhood development plans. They also have a duty to make arrangements for independent examination of the plan.
To date there has been limited examination of neighbourhood development plans prepared under the Localism Act. This note will be updated when there is more experience and learning to share.
The key elements of the process are as follows:
1. Once a neighbourhood development plan is submitted to the Local Planning Authority (LPA) and it is ‘satisfied' that the plan meets the requirements of the 1990 Act (see point 5 below), the LPA should appoint an appropriately qualified and independent examiner . It the LPA's responsibillity to publicise both:
- the neighbourhood development plan
- the method of submitting the representations to be reviewed by the examiner (see point 5 below).
Requirements for neighbourhood plan examinations are set out in the Localism Act.
2. The appointment of the independent examiner must be agreed by the parish council or designated neighbourhood forum submitting the neighbourhood plan proposal (if there is no agreement the Secretary of State can appoint). The LPA is responsible for paying the costs of the examination so it is in the LPA's interests to ensure that the proposed plan meets the basic conditions set out in the Localism Act (see below). A number of local authorities have begun or are beginning the process of appointing an examiner via an open procurement exercise (e.g.Thame, Eden). Guidance is currently limited but a panel of potential examiners to assist this process is being set up by:
- Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors
- Royal Town Planning Institute
- Planning Officers Society
- Department for Communities and Local Gpvernemnt
3. The LPA need to appoint an examiner who is:
- independent of the Parish Council or Neighbourhood Forum
- has no interest in any land that may be affected by the draft plan
- has appropriate qualifications and experience
It is the responsibility of the LPA to decide whether an individual meets the above criteria while the parish council or designated neighbourhood forum must ‘consent' to the appointment. The examiner can be the employee of another local authority or the Secretary of State and undertake the examination for payment. If a local government employee, there is provision to allow the LPA to discuss payment for their time with the other authority.
4. The LPA can send the plan to the independent examiner as soon as they are appointed. They can be appointed as soon as the LPA is ‘satisfied' that the regulatory requirements have been complied with (see above).
5. Following a six-week publicity period, the local planning authority must send to the independent examiner a range of documents including any representations received on the plan. It is generally anticipated that most LPA's will make their own representations on the plan and to advise the examiner as to whether the plan meets the basic conditions but there is no requirement to do so. The documents should include:
- Map or statement identifying the area to which the plan relates
- Consultation statement
- The proposed plan
- A note stating how the plan meets the basic conditions of Schedule 4B to the 1990 Act (known as the "basic conditions statement") including:
a) the plan's compliance with national policy and advice contained in guidance issued by the Secretary of State
b) how the plan contributes to the achievement of sustainable development
c) the general conformity of the plan with the strategic policy of the development plan for the local area
d) the compatibility of the plan with EU and human rights obligations.
- Any relevant environmental assessments (where appropriate).
It is not a requirement to undertake a SEA or Appropriate Assessment unless a previous screening opinion has indicated the need. However it is generally deemed to be good practice to have undertaken an assessment as to how the plan contributes to the achievement of sustainable development as set out in the National Planning Policy Framework.
6. The LPA should make the arrangements they consider appropriate in relation to holding the examination. The general rule is that neighbourhood plan examinations will be held without a public hearing i.e. by way of written representations. However, the examiner has the power to call a public hearing on two grounds:
- To examine a key issue in more depth
- To ensure a person has a fair chance to put a case
If there is a public hearing, the examiner decides on the format – e.g. how questions are to be posed to another individual and the time allowed for questioning. The principle is that all questioning should be done by the examiner. The cost of holding a public hearing remains the responsibility of the LPA.
7. The neighbourhood plan examination is very different to a local plan examination. The examiner is only testing whether the plan meets the basic conditions and other relevant legal requirements – they are not testing the soundness of the plan or looking at other material considerations. As part of the Development Plan used in future planning decisions, it is in the interests of the LPA, the qualifying body and the local community to produce a high quality neighbourhood development plan. Advice and assistance from LPAs to qualifying bodies during the plan-making process is intended to facilitate this.
8. Following the examination the examiner's report is sent to the LPA and to the Parish/Neighbourhood Forum. The report is required to set out the extent to which the draft plan proposal meets the basic conditions (see 5 above) and what modifications (if any) are needed to ensure it meets the basic conditions.
The examiner has three options:
- a) That the plan proceeds to referendum as submitted
- b) The plan is modified by the LPA to meet basic conditions and then the modified version proceeds to referendum
- c) That the plan/ does not proceed to referendum
If the examiner chooses A or B above they must also consider whether the referendum area should be extended. The report must give reasons for each recommendation and contain a summary of its findings. It is the responsibility of the LPA to accept or decline the modifications suggested by the examiner (See 10 below).
There is not a prescribed format in which the examiner's report should be presented.
9. The LPA:
- is responsible for arranging the publication of the report as set out in the regulations
- must consider each of the examiner's recommendations, the reasons for them and decide what action to take in response to each (e.g. what modifications to make, whether to extend a referendum area)
- can make modifications to ensure the basic conditions (see 5 above) are met and may decide to extend the area for referendum beyond the designated neighbourhood area (the default being the neighbourhood area matches the referendum area)
- must publish a map of any extended areas
The LPA sets out its decision and reasons in a ‘decision statement'. If the LPA is satisfied that it meets the basic conditions it must make a decision to proceed to referendum as soon as reasonably possible.
10. Where the LPA proposes to make a decision which differs from the examiner's recommendation, the LPA must notify anyone who asked to be notified of the decision and explain their reasoning for the difference, invite representations and may refer the issue back to an independent examination if they think it appropriate.
11. As soon as possible after deciding that the neighbourhood development plan meets the relevant legal requirements, the LPA must publish a decision statement together with details of where and when the decision statement and the examiners' report can be inspected. The LPA must send a copy to the Parish Council or Neighbourhood Forum and anyone who asked to be notified of the decision.
12. When the LPA is satisfied that the plan meets the basic conditions (see above) and is compatible with the Convention rights (the same as the meaning under the Human Rights Act 1998) as modified, a referendum must be held (decision to proceed to referendum) as soon as reasonably possible. The referendum should not be unduly delayed or postponed (see Briefing Note: Referendum of Neighbourhood Development Plans).