Saturday, 22 February 2020

Reviewing a Neighbourhood Plan

For those of you out there beginning to wonder about whether you should be thinking about reviewing your Neighbourhood Plan, here are a few (hopefully useful) bits of information for you.

In my opinion, there are two key factors that you need to consider in deciding whether you would benefit from reviewing and updating your plan.  These are:
(1) whether your plan is viewed as ‘out of date’ on the context of housing land supply.
(2) whether your plan is likely to be superseded by a Local Plan

In terms of (1) the main trigger for this is if the housing land supply in the area falls below 3 years or if there is less than 5 year’s supply and your plan has not allocated housing sites to meet its need or it is more than 2 years past adoption (unfair I know).  Once any of those measures fail, then planning decisions will be made in relation to the presumption in favour of sustainable development.  Although this doesn’t automatically mean all planning applications will be approved, what it does mean is that sites outside of the defined settlement boundary cannot be refused merely on the basis that they are ‘in the countryside’ unless there is a case that there would be significant harm.

In terms of (2) in Dorset the Local Plan is anticipated to be updated / renewed by early 2023 (if they stick to their current programme).  This may well look at taking a different approach to development in and around the main villages (for example) as a common approach has not previously been taken across the county.  We should know more this Autumn when their options consultation starts (and I will hopefully post something at that time!)

So what would a Neighbourhood Plan review entail - and how long would it take?

Any review as a minimum would need to include revising the plan and supporting information (insofar as relevant to any changes you may be making), running the 6 week 'pre-submission' (Reg 14) consultation and then submitting it for independent examination.  The examination includes its only consultation, and is run pretty much as for a new Neighbourhood Plan, but only focusing on the changed elements.  The question then is whether it needs to go to referendum, which depends on whether the examiner thinks it introduces a significant change. 

So the bad news is that I don't think a review could be done and dusted (with the plan then re-made) in less than 9 months, and quite possibly it will take a lot longer than that (read on...)

I have been keeping an eye out on some of the front runners - when I last looked the only one I spotted that had made significant progress was Farnham, which is now going to referendum next month (see their website) having started their review in 2018 and submitted their plan for examination in January 2019 (so a long examination which included a hearing).  This was certainly looking at a a significant change – they needed to identify land for a further 450 dwellings!  Chinnor is another example which is at examination but includes major new allocations.  Perhaps a slightly more 'borderline' case was Great Glen (see their website) which only added a site allocation for 10 homes (in a plan that formally had none).  But this was still thought to be significant enough to warrant a referendum (held last month).  From the look of it they started May 2018, and got to submission around May 2019 including site assessment work, and then another 8 months to the finish line, so around 20 months in total.  This would have been less (perhaps a year and a half) if they hadn't needed the referendum.

So how long will your review take?  Difficult to tell until you know what you may want to change, but I am happy to have a discussion with any of the groups I have supported previously if you want to get in touch.  The good news (and I know you are looking for good news at this stage) is that there is plenty of grant funding out there for reviews. 

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