Giving local people a say in planning for their area
All across East Devon town and parish councils and local communities are working together to help guide and shape the development of their neighbourhoods, parishes and towns. They are doing this through the creation of an important planning document called a Neighbourhood Plan, which is a community led planning framework for guiding the future development, regeneration and conservation of an area.
Neighbourhood Plans came into force as a result of the Localism Act, which devolved decision making powers to individuals and communities, and included (among other things) giving them a direct say in the future development of their neighbourhoods. The focus of a Neighbourhood Plan is on guiding development, as opposed to preventing it, and it does need to conform to local and national planning policies.
A Neighbourhood Plan is a planning policy document that the District Council’s Development Management team will refer to when considering planning applications within a town or parish. The District Council is formally required to consult on every Neighbourhood Plan for a period of six weeks before it goes to an Independent Examiner, who then inspects the plan against a series of ‘basic conditions’ that the plan must meet.
Should the Examiner conclude that the plan meets those conditions then it proceeds to a local referendum, where should more than half of the electors in the local area vote in favour of the plan, it becomes part of the statutory development plan for East Devon and is deemed ‘made’ (a ‘made’ plan is one that has been brought into force).
At a Neighbourhood Plan referendum, voters are asked to consider the following question: ‘"Do you want East Devon District Council to use the neighbourhood plan for name of town/village to help it decide planning applications in the neighbourhood area?"
A person is entitled to vote in this referendum if:
• He or she is entitled to vote in a local government election in the Referendum area
• His or her qualifying address for the election is in the referendum area.
At present, East Devon has three ‘made’ plans (Lympstone, Stockland and Bishops Clyst). There are 37 Neighbourhood Plans currently being produced in East Devon.
East Devon District Council provides both technical advice and support to local communities seeking to produce a Neighbourhood Plan. The council assists by agreeing the designation of a neighbourhood forum, which is a type of steering group which then leads on the Neighbourhood Plan process, agrees the boundary of the area to be covered by the Neighbourhood Plan, organises the independent examination of the Plan, arranges and funds the referendum and, finally, formally adopts the Neighbourhood Plan and brings it into force.
A neighbourhood plan must comply with European and national legislation, contribute to the achievement of sustainable development, have appropriate regard to national policy and conform with existing strategic local planning policy. It should not promote less development than that identified in the development plan for the local area (such as new housing allocations). It can allow greater growth levels. Also, it can specify policies and guidance on how new development should be designed, orientated and located.
Neighbourhood plans can be a powerful tool in shaping the development of a neighbourhood. The timeframe for the neighbourhood plan will be for communities to decide, for example whether it is a five, 10, 15 or 20-year plan.
A robust programme of community engagement and proportionate evidence base should help to make sure that a neighbourhood plan is based on a proper understanding of the area and of the views, aspirations, wants and needs of local people. Producing a clear project plan with key milestones could be very helpful in guiding the plan-making process.