Blog post #8 Blurred lines local and neighbourhood plans (July 2019)

Blurred lines: local and neighbourhood plans and uncertainty in meeting housing needs

by Edward Dade – author of the All Things Neighbourhood Planning site:

The roles of local plans and neighbourhood plans in addressing strategic and non-strategic matters has been pretty clear in national policy. However the revised NPPF (2019) and recent changes to planning practice guidance (PPG) place greater emphasis on the role of neighbourhood plans in meeting the community’s ‘needs’, thereby potentially blurring the responsibilities of local and neighbourhood plans.

Research by Cheshire East Council showed that just 29% of neighbourhood plans had allocated sites for housing development. If Government wants NDPs to deliver housing, then it is vital that government clarifies the role of neighbourhood plans in meeting strategic housing needs.

Making site allocations is a strategic function of the local plan, which should meet the area’s needs in full. Strategic policies should provide “a clear strategy for bringing sufficient land forward, and at a sufficient rate, to address objectively assessed needs over the plan period…” and include “allocating sufficient sites to deliver the strategic priorities of the area” (NPPF para 23). Local plans can include both strategic policies and policies to address non-strategic matters, whereas neighbourhood plans should contain only ‘non-strategic’ policies (NPPF para 18). Neighbourhood plans should “support the delivery of strategic policies” and should “shape and direct development that is outside of these strategic policies” (NPPF para 13).

However non-strategic policies “can include allocating sites” (NPPF para 28). As such, a site allocation policy can be either strategic or non-strategic; presumably depending on whether the allocation forms part of the overall strategy to meet the area’s housing needs or not. Thus a neighbourhood plan can make site allocations which are in addition to those already allocated by the local plan.

The new duty on local plans to set a housing requirement for Neighbourhood Areas implies a role for neighbourhood planning in meeting the objectively assessed needs for housing. The approach to setting the housing requirement should reflect the overall strategy for the pattern and scale of development as expressed in both the PPG and NPPF. Meeting the area’s housing needs in full is a strategic function of the local plan, therefore this responsibility cannot be directly passed to neighbourhood plans. Where a local plan is up-to-date, the housing requirement for a Neighbourhood Area cannot logically form a part of the Local Housing Need figure. The local plan and neighbourhood plans cannot both ‘plan’ for the area’s housing needs  – as this would likely lead to unnecessary duplication of policies and re-allocation of sites, which would seemingly conflict with national policy and guidance. It is therefore unclear precisely what need the housing requirement for Neighbourhood Areas should address.

It gets more intriguing when a two-part local plan model is considered. The example of Uppingham is useful – they made housing allocations to meet the target set by the Core Strategy (i.e. ‘part 1’ of the local plan) – although this case was subject to a lengthy legal wrangle but came through. So while national policy stops short of actually proposing a two-tier system a strategy which passes the responsibility of allocating sites onto NDPs is unlikely to find support from local plan Inspectors. The soundness tests require local plans to as a minimum meet the areas’ objectively assessed needs (NPPF para 35) and great emphasis is on deliverability; NDPs introduce uncertainty there as their preparation lies outside the local planning authority’s control.


Blog post #7 50 years of Skeffington and NP (March 2019)

Neighbourhood Planning 50 years on from the Skeffington Report

Dr Matt Wargent, University of Reading

The University of Reading recently held an event in partnership with the RTPI to consider the contemporary relevance of the 1969 Skeffington Report People and Planning . Its publication is rightly considered a seminal moment in UK planning history as the first formal recognition of the need for participation in the planning system. Re-reading the Report, it is remarkable how relevant many of the issues discussed and recommendations proffered apply to planning today.

The need to improve publicity around plan-making, refine consultation (and feedback) processes, and extend education in planning matters are all still highly relevant in 2019. The Report also recommended the establishment of community forums to fulfil many of the functions that Neighbourhood Planning groups perform today. Some of the overlooked recommendations are also being echoed today, for example the need for community development to stimulate participation and promote social inclusion (see Wargent and Parker, 2018 in the Research area).

Given how applicable the Skeffington Report still appears to be, it is reasonable to ask if the Committee members were particularly prescient in their analysis, or whether planning has failed to make much progress in the past half- century? Unsurprisingly, the answer is probably a bit of both. Perhaps more importantly, Skeffington was really just applying to planning the long-established issues and irresolvable tensions have preoccupied theorists of (participatory) democracy since the first democratic city-states of classical antiquity. Perhaps it’s not that surprising that the first reactions to the Report were lukewarm.

Nonetheless, the Report is considered a watershed moment for participatory planning – a step-change in the public’s role. Yet when looking back to the time in which Skeffington was being written, it is perhaps surprising how modest some of the recommendations actually were. The late 1960s saw a proliferation of protest movements around the world, notably the anti-Vietnam War riots in the US and the Mai ’68 protests in Paris that brought the French economy to its knees. In the US, the Kennedy and Johnson administrations had advocated “maximum feasible participation”, whilst writer-activists such as Sherry Arnstein (famous for her ‘ladder of participation’), Jane Jacobs and Carole Pateman were all advocating radical forms of citizen democracy. Set against such a context, Skeffington might actually be read as an attempt to placate (to use Arnstein’s language) people and neutralise wider societal shifts towards popular participation, rather than place communities at the heart of the planning system.

In addition to Skeffington, the Planning Advisory Group published its 1965 report into the effectiveness of development plans and delays in the planning system, which led to the 1968 Town and Country Planning Act and the introduction of Structure Plans (that would remain a part of the system until 2004). The issue of delay (that the Structure Plans were to help alleviate) corresponded with a pursuit of efficiency in the planning system that has remained a hot topic in UK planning. It is interesting to note that the 1960s saw the emergence of these twin discourses of participation and efficiency, and that both remain so relevant to today’s planning practice.

Some contemporary commentators criticised Skeffington’s recommendations for being too instrumental and framing public participation as a means to facilitate the speedy completion of plans (rather than giving communities a greater voice, or being an end in itself). Similar criticisms have been levelled at Neighbourhood Planning, as a means to deliver growth rather than deliver genuine opportunities for community empowerment. Has planning failed to move on in the 50 years since Skeffington, or is state-led participation instrumental by necessity? One thing is for sure meaningful participation remains an ongoing challenge for governments to address effectively.



Blog post #6 Best Laid Plans… (Jan 2019)

The best laid plans: How far do neighbourhood plans influence decision-making?

Guest blog by Andy Yuille, Lancaster University

Neighbourhood planning is intended to give people more control over the ways in which their neighbourhoods develop, to transfer power from remote ‘insiders’ to affected communities. But communities only gained the power to make plans: decisions on what actually gets planning permission lies elsewhere.

A review of a substantial selection of planning appeals involving neighbourhood plans to see how much influence they were having on planning decisions was undertaken by NALC. The review wasn’t comprehensive, and didn’t look at decisions made by local authorities – much more research is needed to build up a complete picture. But what was found makes unsettling reading for the 12 million people living in neighbourhood planning communities.

Planning applications are determined in accordance with a set of factors with varying influence and weight for decision-makers including the development plan of course but most prominently (in particular in relation to housing development), they also include:

  • Whether the local authority can demonstrate a five-year supply of easily deliverable housing land (or three years’ worth, if the plan allocates sites for housing) – and if not, how severe the shortfall is
  • Whether the plan is formally ‘made’ or still emerging
  • If still emerging, what stage it is at, whether it commands widespread community support and/or has significant outstanding objections, and how consistent it is with national policy – all of which are open to interpretation by decision-makers
  • Whether the plan conforms to an up-to-date Local Plan that is consistent with national policy
  • How open to interpretation the plan’s policies are

After an initial period of strong support for neighbourhood plans, these factors increasingly result in neighbourhood plan policies being outweighed by other considerations at appeal. District-wide shortfalls in housing land supply, the length of time it takes to get a plan ‘made’ and speculative developers beating the clock, conflicting interpretations of plan policies, and out-of-date or changing local plans combine to produce a ‘new normal’ in which applications that conflict with neighbourhood plans are often granted at appeal. In each situation, external influences result in control over neighbourhood development being denied to the community. Recent and proposed changes to the planning system (e.g. the housing delivery test and the promotion of new ‘garden communities’) seems set to decrease local community control over development further.

It could be argued that all this adds up to is national policy functioning as intended, enabling speculative development to take up the slack where the plan-led system is not delivering. However, this fundamentally undermines the conceptual basis for neighbourhood planning by favouring development per se over development which meets the expressed needs and wishes of communities. This can only erode public confidence in both neighbourhood planning and the planning system more widely.

If communities are to welcome new development because they feel in control, there must be a clear signal from government that plans made by local communities will have real effects. This will require significantly reducing the incidence of neighbourhood plans being overturned at appeal.

Note: this blog piece is based on the NALC report, “Where next for neighbourhood plans? Can they withstand the external pressures?

Blog post #5 Neighbourhood Plans and the positive allocation of housing sites (October 2018)

Guest blog by: Chris Bowden, Director of Navigus Planning

So, it is official…the new National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF 2) states in black and white that as long as your neighbourhood plan (NP) is no more than 2 years old and has policies and allocations to meet your housing requirements, then your local planning authority only need demonstrate a 3-year supply of housing to fend off poor quality speculative planning applications (rather than the usual 5-year supply). Consider the carrot of undertaking site allocations as part of your NP well and truly dangled… Nevertheless, it is all too easy for groups to focus simply on allocating sites as a way of fending off the unwanted rather than thinking positively about what they can secure for their communities through the site allocation process. The truth is that new development is the main show in town if you want to pay for community infrastructure; for example, new play areas, sports pitches and community centres. But that doesn’t mean that a developer offering to provide facilities in exchange for an allocation should be able to call the shots. Far from it. The fact is that communities have traditionally met the planning system when there is an application they may wish to oppose. Whether through placard-wielding protest or well-crafted speeches to planning committees it is 11th hour stuff. The ability to influence is significantly restricted as most of the matters at hand have been dealt with. By contrast, NP is part of the meat and drink of what planning is really all about, namely plan making. It is the opportunity to shape what happens early on. Under the NPPF regime, sites promoted for housing development have to present some pretty fundamental showstoppers to not be considered sustainable. This often leaves NP groups with a list of ‘sustainable’ sites adding up to a dwelling number far in excess of that which they need to find. For many, the fear is that they are then obliged to allocate them all and incur the wrath of their communities. But this is simply not the case and highlights the importance of being clear about the objectives of the NP for that community. Clear objectives lead to well-evidenced requirements. For example, one objective of a NP may be to provide greater choice in the facilities that serve the needs of families. The evidence from the community, coupled with the local planning authorities’ technical evidence (in its community facilities or play audit), identifies a shortage in the provision of play facilities for older children in the south of a town. Therefore it is reasonable to require a site allocation in this area to provide an appropriate play facility as part of an allocation for housing development; and one that is well connected to the rest of the community. So in the world of NP the site best able to do so will secure the allocation at the expense of the others. Developers may be quick to offer ‘benefits’ but NP groups should remember that this is their game and their evidenced needs can justify the contributions. If the developer will not follow the rules of the game then they won’t be allowed to play and if groups are firm and clear and use their evidence to justify their objectives, it is amazing how quickly developers will fall into line.

Blog post #4 ‘So you think its all over’. Implementation and updating of Neighbourhood Plans (June 2018)

 #4 “So you think its all over.” Implementation and updating of Neighbourhood Plans. 
With a nod to the World cup of course…and  unlike that event neighbourhood planning doesn’t really have such a clear beginning and end!
Much attention has been paid to the process of putting a neighbourhood plan together – with the attendant trials and  tribulations, however, the real benefit of neighbourhood planning comes in the application of its policies i.e. the  implementation of the Plan.
Those approaching the final stages of the neighbourhood planning process, or indeed those with a ‘made’ Plan should already be thinking about its durability and how it will be implemented and applied when development applications are assessed.
For others, understandably so, implementation may seem like the last in a long list of issues to tackle and consider as the Plan is being prepared. The recent HIVE event at the University of Reading in early June revealed that the implementation of the Plan and issues surrounding change post-adoption are not well understood but that they need to be.
The changing nature of planning policy (including changing Local Plan status) and legal judgements may mean that the neighbourhood plan policies will not be considered up-to-date over the entire Plan period. A review, refresh and / or rethink of the entire Plan may be required. This has also been on the mind of Government who have recently clarified the approaches available to groups who wish to protect their Plans from external change. There are 3 ‘options’:
  1. The Local Planning Authority, with consent from the qualifying body, can amend a ‘made’ Plan to correct an error or when changes are minor;
  2. Where updates are proposed and these do not significantly change the nature of the Plan the process of creating a new Plan to examination stage must be followed. In these circumstances the Examiner’s report will be binding (and provided the updated Plan meets the basic conditions test there is no requirement for a referendum);
  3. Where updates are significant and change the nature of the Plan a new Plan must be prepared (i.e. all the stages followed).
In the second and  third situations  it is for the independent examiner to decide whether the modifications change the ‘nature of the Plan’.
In certain circumstances; including where the neighbourhood plan allocates land for sites, and it has been part of the development plan for 2 years or less, the neighbourhood plan policies should not be considered “out of date” if the Local Planning Authority can demonstrate a three-year supply of deliverable housing sites (as opposed to five years for the Local Plan). Thus the neighbourhood plan is afforded additional protection.
While we appreciate that the prospect of going through the whole process again may seem daunting it should be easier the second time round. Groups can build on and apply the knowledge, skills and expertise gained and lean on the relationships developed with the wider community, those with an interest in the Plan and importantly their Local Planning Authority.
We urge steering groups to consider, and integrate the above into their project planning, how they will anticipate and respond to change. As well as more mundanely how they will ensure that the Plan policies are visible and considered during the planning application process. This may require terms of reference and procedures to be put in place. Bear in mind that those consulted on the Plan, and those responsible for making the decision on whether to update the Plan, may not be those who have written it. In many areas a steering group writes the Plan but the Parish Council are the Qualifying Body – this is an important distinction when it comes to considering who is legally responsible for the Plan.
[Cue Kenneth Wolstenholme]: ‘If you think it’s all over…it probably isn’t’…


[By Gavin Parker and Kat Salter]

Blog #3 Duty to Support: clarity? (March 2018)

#3, Duty to Support: clarity?
The February blogpost highlighted the important role Local Planning Authorities (LPAs) play in neighbourhood planning and why there may be variations in approach and the level of support that they are able to offer. In this post we discuss the importance of developing an open and honest working relationship.
Firstly, groups need to understand how the LPA is likely to deliver on its duty to support. A good starting point is to have a look at the information and guidance available on their website – they may have a specific section on neighbourhood planning, otherwise, it is likely to be found within Planning Policy. Most LPAs provide general information on the process, signposts to further information and guidance and contact details of who to contact for further information and assistance. Some areas appoint a dedicated neighbourhood planning officer whereas in others support is provided by the Planning Policy Team.
Having identified the most appropriate contact Neighbourhood Planning groups should engage with the LPA at an early stage in the process and have an open conversation about what support they can provide (and when) and also what in turn they expect from groups. In some areas this may be formalised in a Memorandum of Understanding. As part of these conversations you should seek a named contact for your group as this will help to ensure consistency of support and guidance throughout the process.
You may also take this opportunity to discuss your initial aspirations for the area, whether a neighbourhood plan is the most appropriate tool and to gain a greater understanding of what the neighbourhood plan may be able to realistically deliver. This can help to manage expectations as research has shown that a key sticking point for groups is due to tension between local expectations and desires and the legislative framework and parameters within which neighbourhood planning operates.
In order to assist with your understanding of the technical requirements of neighbourhood planning groups should also read the relevant passages of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), its due to be amended soon though, National Planning Practice Guidance on Neighbourhood Planning (this provides more practical and detailed advice and guidance) and review the strategic policies in the adopted Local Plan. This will help you to understand the wider planning context, the parameters of neighbourhood planning and to identify areas and issues that will be best tackled through a locally distinctive neighbourhood plan. For example, as well as identifying areas that cannot be addressed through a neighbourhood plan (e.g. in many cases Affordable Housing policies are strategic policies) the Local Plan may already identify particular issues to be addressed. For example, some LPAs are providing groups with a “housing target” or an expectation that they will amend the settlement boundary. Again, your LPA should be able to offer advice on the national and local context.
In any case, knowing the “ground rules” and engaging in (in)formal dialogue at the start can significantly smooth the process and make it easier for groups to focus on the issues and areas of greatest value and importance to them – thus ensuring a locally distinctive and legally compliant neighbourhood plan. Bingo!
Planning Aid England have produced a suite of resources to assist groups including how to engage and work constructively with your local planning authority’ and ‘who to speak to at your local planning authority.’  

Blog #2 Local Authority responses to NP (February 2018)

#2, Local Authority responses to Neighbourhood Planning
The Local Planning Authority (LPA) has an important role to play in neighbourhood planning. They must fulfil a series of legislative duties and they also have a ‘duty to support’ – but what does that actually mean in practice?
Consistent with much of the non-prescriptive policy approach taken under localism, the specific requirements of the ‘duty to support’ are not explicitly articulated but rather left for each LPA to determine the appropriate level of support, with the National Planning Practice Guidance (NPPG) as a steer. The result has been LPAs adopting different approaches with variation in not only the type but also the quality of support offered to groups.
Types of support include the appointment of a dedicated NP officer; signposting to sources of information and advice; assisting with technical aspects of Plan production (for example the Strategic Environmental Assessment / Sustainability Appraisal); providing grants for groups; commenting on draft plans and assisting with the evidence base.
From our research to date we have come to see three broad types of LPA response – the reactive, the deflective and the proactive. These responses can be influenced by various factors, including resourcing, broader commitments and priorities (for example, developing their own Local Plan), their considered value in neighbourhood planning and, in some cases, concerns about the impact of neighbourhood planning on their ability to deliver strategic planning.
Reactive approaches range from LPAs who only engage after groups have taken the initiative or who remain ambivalent until issues arise which require their attention and response. These responses may be down to the impact of austerity on LPA capacity which has left some in a position of not actively promoting neighbourhood planning based on concerns over staff and resource pressures. LPAs may offer more resource where community aspirations support strategic needs or where issues arise including in finalising the plans or facing legal challenges.
Deflective responses appear to steer groups towards other forms of community-led planning which may better achieve their objectives – this may include Village Design Statements or engaging with the local plan directly. Interesting responses include where areas have balanced the “added” community incentive for groups developing neighbourhood plans to access 25% of Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) funds by extending that offer to all groups.  The LPA can still aim to meet its strategic objectives working closely with communities regardless of whether they are producing a neighbourhood plan.
Proactive LPAs often seek to integrate neighbourhood planning into the local plan process as they see potential benefits for delivering their strategic responsibilities in collaboration. They may go far as encouraging neighbourhood plans and working with communities to allocate sites for housing thus contributing to overall housing supply and hopefully reducing opposition to future development. This level of support often makes it easier for groups to navigate the process as they make more resource and guidance available. This can include appointing an officer to work closely with groups, developing a suite of resources, application forms and templates with protocol or guides for the more technical aspects of plan development, for example how to assess sites for development.
LPAs may not all fit into one category and we have seen LPAs change their approach over time. Given the variety and fluidity of LPA practice elicited thus far it is essential that groups take the time to understand their local (planning) context and engage with the LPA at an early stage. It helps to firstly understand the position of the LPA and move to building a strong relationship that can support the interests and resources of all parties. Establishing what support will be forthcoming and getting it set down in a Memorandum of Understanding is advisable. Further information and advice on how to do this will be published in our March 2018 blogpost.  Know your partner!


[by Kat Salter and Mark Dobson]

Blog #1 NP examination guidance (December 2017)

#1 NP Examination guidance expected soon

[by Gavin Parker]

We have been drawing attention to the difficulties that NP groups have had with the examination stage and the RICS NPIERS panel, with partners, has been working on guidance for communities and for the examiners. We produced a comprehensive briefing paper to inform this support.
Watch this space as the guidance is due out very soon…
We will add it to the resources area when available.



Real Estate & Planning at Reading
Henley Business School