Emerging Neighbourhood Plans (nudge, nudge)

Call me old-fashioned but in my view legislation should change, consolidate or codify law, not simply serve as a political nudge. I referred in my last blog post  to section 1 of the Localism Act. Clause 1 of the new Neighbourhood Planning Bill  is out of the same stable. 
Clause 1 of the Bill amends section 70 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 so that, in determining planning applications (in England), a decision maker must have regard to a “post-examination draft neighbourhood plan, so far as material to the application”. The Bill’s explanatory notes  explain that this is “intended to strengthen neighbourhood planning by ensuring that planning decision-makers take account of well-advanced neighbourhood development plans” and to give such plans “full legal effect at an earlier stage”. 

However, plainly, a draft development plan, particularly one that has gone through independent examination is a material consideration for the purposes of section 38(6) of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 (determination to be in accordance with the development plan unless material considerations indicate otherwise) and, as Richard Harwood QC points out in his excellent summary  of the current Bill, not only is it material but it is likely to have considerable weight, due to the stages that it has been through, given the advice in paragraph 216 of the NPPF:

From the day of publication, decision-takers may also give weight to relevant policies in emerging plans according to:

● the stage of preparation of the emerging plan (the more advanced the preparation, the greater the weight that may be given);

● the extent to which there are unresolved objections to relevant policies (the less significant the unresolved objections, the greater the weight that may be given); and

● the degree of consistency of the relevant policies in the emerging plan to the policies in this Framework (the closer the policies in the emerging plan to the policies in the Framework, the greater the weight that may be given). “

Specific advice in relation to emerging neighbourhood plans is in the PPG:

“Planning applications are decided in accordance with the development plan, unless material considerations indicate otherwise. An emerging neighbourhood plan may be a material consideration. Paragraph 216 of the National Planning Policy Framework sets out the weight that may be given to relevant policies in emerging plans in decision taking. Factors to consider include the stage of preparation of the plan and the extent to which there are unresolved objections to relevant policies. Whilst a referendum ensures that the community has the final say on whether the neighbourhood plan comes into force, decision makers should respect evidence of local support prior to the referendum when seeking to apply weight to an emerging neighbourhood plan. The consultation statement submitted with the draft neighbourhood plan should reveal the quality and effectiveness of the consultation that has informed the plan proposals. And all representations on the proposals should have been submitted to the local planning authority by the close of the local planning authority’s publicity period. It is for the decision maker in each case to determine what is a material consideration and what weight to give to it.
The provision in the Bill appears to be rather an after-thought, and perhaps simply a nudge to decision-makers, given that it wasn’t trailed in the Government’s February 2016 technical consultation on implementation of planning changes  , 2 September 2016 response to consultation  or indeed the 7 September 2016 technical consultation on the neighbourhood planning provisions of the Bill  published on the same day as the Bill!

What will make more of a difference in practice to the interplay between emerging neighbourhood plans and decision-making on planning applications will be the increased speed with which neighbourhood plans are likely to be reaching the post-examination stage, due to a timetable within which LPAs must undertake neighbourhood planning functions, prescribed by Regulations under section 140 of the Housing and Planning Act 2016 coming into force on 1 October 2016, meaning that a developer preparing a planning application needs to be increasingly aware that a draft neighbourhood plan may be on its way to being a material consideration before the application is determined. 

The previous planning minister on 7 July 2016 extended  for a further six months his policy to consider recovering for his own determination planning appeals made where a neighbourhood plan proposal has been submitted to an LPA (although increasing the threshold from ten to 25 units). 
The weight to be attached to emerging neighbourhood plans (not addressed by clause 1 as it is a matter for the decision maker as long as properly reasoned), including circumstances where the neighbourhood plan is ahead of the relevant local plan (again not addressed in the Bill), has of course frequently arisen in legal challenges (eg Woodcock Holdings Limited v Secretary of State  (Holgate J, 1 May 2015) and R(DLA Delivery Limited) v Lewes District Council  (Foskett J, 31 July 2015 – Court of Appeal hearing fixed for 15 and 16 November 2016) and in appeal decisions (eg Sunley Estates/Chichester decision letter  25 April 2016).
Equivalent conflicts will continue to arise, notwithstanding clause 1. Indeed it may be easier for third parties to challenge a decision where the LPA can be shown not to have expressly taken into account a post-examination draft neighbourhood plan. 
Simon Ricketts, 8.9.16
Personal views, et cetera

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