OK - quite a few Neighbourhood Plan groups and individuals have been mentioning this to me recently - so I thought it best to revisit this point (which I think I blogged about at the time but despite raising objections to the NPPF at that time it didn't get changed by our MPs).
The 2 year clause...
Most of the time, because Neighbourhood Plans (when made) are part of the development plan for an area, they should have a real influence on planning decisions. This is because in planning law (Section 38-6 of the 2004 Planning Act) planning applications have to be determined in accordance with the development plan, unless material considerations indicate otherwise.
However, what the NPPF says, is one of those 'material considerations'. And the NPPF talks about what should happen if the policies in the development (i.e. the Local Plan and Neighbourhood Plans), and specifically those policies which are the most important policies for determining that application, are out-of-date (in para 11d). In such a scenario, planning permission should be granted unless the NPPF says it shouldn't be - so the decision-maker is basically being told to give those policies very limited weight, and only refuse the planning application if there would be real environmental harm.
So what does it mean by 'out-of-date'? This certainly is the case when the Local Planning Authority does not have a 5 year housing land supply. The NPPF then, in para 14, says what consideration should be given to Neighbourhood Plans for that area. And this is where the '2 year clause' hits home (so only where there isn't a 5 year housing land supply of the Local Plan is otherwise out-of-date). It basically says that any conflict with a Neighbourhood Plan should be treated as a reason for refusal, but only if all of the following tests are met:
a) the neighbourhood plan was made less than 2 years before the date on which the decision is made;
b) the neighbourhood plan contains policies and allocations to meet its identified housing requirement;
c) the local planning authority has at least 60% of its 5 year supply (ie the equivalent of 3 years); and
d) the local planning authority’s housing delivery was at least 45% of that required over the previous three years (this relates to something called the 'Housing Delivery Test' - the latest results having just been published here).
Now all of these seem slightly unfair on communities that have spent a lot of time and effort jumping through the hoops of getting a Neighbourhood Plan made, but the 2 year clause seems particularly unreasonable. Local Plans are expected to be reviewed at least every 5 years - so why shouldn't a similar timescale be applied to Neighbourhood Plans in this scenario?
What can you do? Lobby your MP to get this changed. Lobby the Minister that head up the MCHLG, and Steve Quartermain who is Chief Planner at MHCLG (see their website). I have heard they are revising the NPPF later this year - so now is the time to get this changed.
But just to reiterate - it only applies when the Local Plan is 'out of date'. So usually when there is a 5 year housing supply, Neighbourhood Plans which are more than 2 years 'old' will still be given full weight in decision making. But this is the case at the moment across much of Dorset. So I will blog separately on the Neighbourhood Plan review mechanism for those groups who are thinking whether they wish to look into this now.