These FAQs came out of Neighbourhood Planning Frontrunner group meetings held back in 2016/17 and the questions were answered by MHCLG. Some of the answers may no longer be up to date due to policy changes but they could still be useful.
To ensure communities have the right support and advice to meet their aspirations, there are four organisations, with renowned expertise in planning, who will provide assistance to local groups developing neighbourhood plans.
Can you do a neighbourhood plan if you don't have a local plan in place?
The Government wants local councils to get plans in place without delay to reflect the development needs of their area, based on up-to-date evidence which can also provide a framework for future neighbourhood plans. However, legally an up-to-date local plan is not a pre-requisite for neighbourhood planning. It is important to remember that for a neighbourhood development plan or order to be successful it needs to be in general conformity with the strategic policies of the existing development plan for the local area.
Where neighbourhood planning is undertaken before an up-to-date council plan is in place, collaboration between the community and the council will be critical. The local council should take an active role in advising and supporting the community group, sharing evidence and information and ensuring the neighbourhood plan fits with any relevant up-to-date evidence of strategic needs, the strategic policies of its existing adopted development plans and national policy. It will be for the local council and examiner to determine the weight to be attached to policies in an existing local plan when considering neighbourhood plans.
If in the future there will only be local plans and neighbourhood plans - will area action plans, land allocation documents, SPD etc will all disappear?
Neighbourhood planning is a permissive regime. Supplementary planning documents and area action plans are valid tools in the toolbox for planners and communities alike to use in planning their local areas, and may be more appropriate for some communities to pursue with their local authority than a neighbourhood development plan or order.
Neighbourhood development plans or orders are another option for communities to use, who perhaps do not want to rely as heavily on the local authority throughout the process of producing a document, or who want the guarantee that their document will become part of the statutory development plan for the local area, if it successfully meets the right conditions.
Are existing parish plans and village design statements still valid?
Yes. Parish Plans, Community Plans or Market Town Action Plans remain one of the tools communities can use to use to deliver on their ambitions. Indeed in many cases these provide a firm foundation to undertake neighbourhood planning under the Localism Act. A neighbourhood development plan once it is brought into force after a referendum carries real legal weight. Decision-makers will be obliged to make decisions in line with the local development plan (including any neighbourhood development plans in force) when they consider proposals for development in the neighbourhood. A neighbourhood development order can grant planning permission for development that complies with the order.
Can you do a neighbourhood plan for just part of a parish?
Yes - but the parish council needs to be involved and lead the process.
What if a community wants to do a neighbourhood plan but the parish / town council doesn't?
The Government will be consulting on regulations to prescribe the arrangements around consultation and participation. But, ultimately this is an opportunity for the community to work together to agree on a way forward for their neighbourhood that the majority of the electorate supports.
Can a neighbourhood plan cross ward, parish or district boundaries?
Yes - Neighbourhood areas can also cross local authority administrative boundaries.
How do you assess the appropriate area for the neighbourhood plan?
The town or parish council or a community group will apply to the local council for an area to become a neighbourhood area for neighbourhood planning purposes. The local council should agree and designate that area unless it has valid planning reasons to identify a revised neighbourhood area. The local council must ensure neighbourhood areas are coherent, consistent and appropriate.
Different factors will have different importance and priorities for different areas, and sometimes even within the same local authority boundary. For more discrete factors, it will be up to the local authority to decide how much weight and how important these things are, when deciding the neighbourhood boundary for neighbourhood planning purposes.
The Government is not prescribing the boundaries neighbourhoods should be set at: they will differ for different areas across the country, and should be what is most appropriate for that area.
How do you work out what in a neighbourhood plan is in general conformity with the strategic policies and what isn't?
General conformity is a well established principle in planning, it tends to indicate that an idea or issue is in general conformity if it upholds the general principle of the idea or issue it is concerned with. This is a matter for each local council to determine.
Where does it say that the policies in a neighbourhood plan have to be evidence based and deliverable (or do they?)
Neighbourhood plans must have appropriate regard to national policy, including the National Planning Policy Framework and any evidence requirements set out in this.
Neighbourhood forums and parish councils will need to use appropriate, proportionate and up-to-date evidence to support the policies in a proposed neighbourhood development plan.
If a neighbourhood plan allocates sites for development can a land owner object at examination if his site is not allocated?
The Government is aware of the need to ensure that neighbourhood planning is as inclusive as possible. Regulations will set out the requirements for consultation with, and participation by, local people and others in the development of proposals.
There will be the opportunity for all affected by proposals to make representations to the independent examination. The general rule is that examinations will be by written representations, examiners will have the ability (indeed will have a duty) to hear oral representations, where necessary, to ensure adequate examination of issues or to ensure a person has a fair chance to put a case.
Do ward councillors have to be involved in any neighbourhood planning for their area?
They don't have to be, but it is advisable and expected. Experience from the neighbourhood planning front runners is that where members are involved they play a key role and can help progress the work significantly - giving it profile with the community and within the wider council and helping to access resources for the work.
Do town/parish councils make the final decision on all new development in their area if they have a neighbourhood plan
Decision making on planning applications rests with the local planning authority. The community leads on preparing the plan and setting out the policies for development in their area but it is the LPA that will grant planning permission in accordance with those policies and be responsible for enforcing them.
The Localism Act contains provisions entitling a Parish Council, in prescribed circumstances, to determine applications for approvals where these relate to a Neighbourhood Development Order. Proposed new regulations are currently being consulted on.
Will Town / Parish councils be responsible for any appeals on decisions in the plan area and responsible for enforcement issues on new development in their plan area
As above this will be the responsibility of the local planning authority
Do the LA get to keep £20,000 grant from DCLG to the front runners?
The Neighbourhood Planning Front Runners Scheme awards a grant of £20,000 per neighbourhood plan area to local planning authorities in England to assist them with undertaking a neighbourhood-level planning exercise akin to that envisaged under the provisions for neighbourhood planning under the Localism Act.
The purpose of the Frontrunners project is to mimic the arrangements under neighbourhood planning as closely as possible so as to increase the likelihood of identifying issues that will arise under the procedures envisaged for neighbourhood planning proper. However, the funding is not a ring-fenced grant and it is for the councils to decide how they choose to spend this money.
How can I resource neighbourhood planning work in my area?
The Government realises that the neighbourhood planning system imposes costs, opportunities and benefits on local councils, town and parish councils, communities and other key partners. It is committed to providing £50 million until March 2014 to support local councils in making neighbourhood planning a success.
The Government is also looking at what support can be made directly available to town and parish councils and communities more generally to help support neighbourhood planning activities and hope to make an announcement shortly.