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Planning perspectives: Neighbourhood Plans and 2017 policy

Turley’s Associate Director, Tom Armfield, gives his predictions for the year ahead.

Empowering local communities has been a key cornerstone of the Conservative’s (and subsequently the Government’s) agenda since they came to power in May 2010.  This is embodied in the notion of Neighbourhood Plans, approximately 230 of which have been made to date.

These Plans have however not been without controversy for the planning industry, with inconsistency as to how they are applied impacting the development industry.  Firstly there were disputes between Town Councils and residents and votes of no confidence (see Thame), then there was Secretary of State decisions which contradicted long established planning law by essentially giving NP’s primacy over Local Plans.  There followed a glut of legal challenges, and now we have the Written Ministerial Statement from the Planning Minister Gavin Barwell.

The Statement sets a much higher bar for planning in areas covered by Neighbourhood Plans, which contrary to national planning policy, are now only out of date if a Council cannot demonstrate three years’ worth of supply, as opposed to five years for everywhere else. 

It is very rare that an authority is found to have a supply this low, especially in areas with good land values and high demand.  Moreover it is not clear what ‘three years’ actually means. A consortium of house builders and developers has now sought to challenge the Statement, on the basis that it was not subject to public consultation and ambiguity as to what the Statement intended.   

It is likely the upcoming Housing White Paper will shed further light on the future approach to Neighbourhood Plans. Irrespective of this we expect the debate around Neighbourhood Plans and the uncertainty they bring (contrary to their aims) will long continue.  Localism is set to remain a key thrust of Government policy.