#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]