#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]