3 key changes to Neighbourhood Plans and housing

An update to the Planning Practice Guidance published on Friday 12 February has provided some much needed clarity on the role of Neighbourhood Plans in residential planning applications. This blog explains more.

A Neighbourhood Plan is one prepared by a local community, such as a Parish Council, to guide development in there area, usually over a 15 year period. Whilst the community have a great deal of freedom to include whatever policies they want, the Plan must take into account the policies at a borough level. For example, a Neighbourhood Plan can’t be used to prevent development that the borough believes is necessary.

When they were introduced, the government believed that giving locals more control over the planning process would encourage more development to come forward, and reduce the level of objection to new proposals. In reality, however, Neighbourhood Plans have often been seen as a tool to prevent unwanted development. This view has been helped by the confusingly different interpretations given to Neighbourhood Plans at appeal. In some appeals, the Neighbourhood Plan has been allowed to prevent a development proposal even while the borough as a whole doesn’t have a plan itself, and doesn’t have an appropriate supply of new homes. Yet other Inspectors in other instances have taken the contrary view.

It would appear that the changes to the Practice Guidance are an attempt to clarify the role of Neighbourhood Plans in delivering new homes. There are three key changes:

  1. While Neighbourhood Plans can come into force before a new Local Plan for the borough as a whole, they must take into account the evidence base that has been prepared to support that plan. The specific example given is that a housing supply policy in a Neighbourhood Plan must reflect the evidence of borough wide housing need. It can’t plan to deliver fewer homes that the borough thinks it is likely to need, simply be coming into force early.
  2. Where the evidence of housing need is still emerging, Neighbourhood Plans should consider allocating ‘reserve sites’ for development to ensure that an adequate supply of new homes can still be delivered if a higher number is required. These would only be developed if more homes were needed.
  3. It is made clear that if a borough overall can’t demonstrate that they have enough housing land to last for five-years (the minimum requirement from national policy) then the policies in Neighbourhood Plans should be considered to be out-of-date, just like the policies in the borough-wide plan would be.

Taken together, these changes underline the importance the government is placing on housing delivery. They emphasise how crucial it is that Neighbourhood Plans are used to ensure that the required number of homes are delivered, and not as a tool to prevent development. The changes also make clear that a Neighbourhood Plan does not ‘trump’ the absence of an adequate supply of housing land across a wider area – it is simply another factor to be considered.

Given the support currently being shown for housing delivery, the time has never been better to start promoting land for development. If you own, or know of, a site that you think The Strategic Land Group might be able to help you deliver, get in touch today.

Image courtesy of Peter O’Connor on Flickr.

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