Where they exist, a town or parish council is the only 'qualifying body' that can prepare a neighbourhood development plan in their area. The town or parish council, or neighbourhood forum or a group capable of being a Neighbourhood Forum, should formally submit a neighbourhood area application to West Northamptonshire Council.
The submission should include:
- A map identifying the proposed boundary of the neighbourhood area
- A statement explaining why it is considered an appropriate neighbourhood area
- A statement that the organisation making the application is a relevant body
In most cases the parish boundary is likely to be the appropriate boundary for the neighbourhood area.
In all cases, when making a designation West Northamptonshire Council will aim to ensure that the neighbourhood area will not subsequently need to be altered to enable more logical neighbourhood boundaries in the future.
Once an application has been received by the Council the designation process will depend on the extent of the neighbourhood area:
- If the area designation is for the whole parish and the application is valid, the Council will automatically designate the area as a neighbourhood area.
- If the area designation is for part of a parish or extends into another parish or district, the process will take longer. A public consultation must take place and the final decision will be made by Full Council where possible.
- In all cases the Council will need to consider whether the area applied for should be designated as a Business Area
If the application is for the whole parish area the Council can only amend the boundary of the proposed area if any of the area has already been designated or if there is an outstanding application for designation.
If the Council considers that the area is wholly or predominantly business in nature it should be designated as a business area. If so, there will be a second referendum for the business sector (see Step 5 below).
Areas without a town or parish council
If a town or parish council does not exist then a community group known as a 'neighbourhood forum’ must be established to lead the process. An application to designate a neighbourhood forum must be submitted to the District Council.
The application should include:
- The name of the proposed neighbourhood forum
- A copy of the written constitution
- The name of the neighbourhood area to which the application relates and a map which identifies the area
- The contact details of at least one member that can be made public
- A statement explaining how the proposed forum meets the following conditions:
- It is established to promote or improve the social, economic and environmental well-being of the neighbourhood area.
- It has a minimum of 21 individual members and membership is open to: people living in the area; people who work in the area; elected members of the Council whose falls within the neighbourhood area concerned.
- It has a written constitution.
The Council has 13 weeks to determine an application or 20 weeks if the application is made to more than one local planning authority. During this time the Council will publicise the application for six weeks and invite representations. The forum application will then be determined by the Council under the same delegated process that is in place for determining neighbourhood area applications.
Once a Neighbourhood Area is designated, the town or parish council or forum (the ‘qualifying body’) should start preparing the plan. They must engage the community and build an evidence base to justify the eventual policies and proposals.
The Council encourages early dialogue with groups preparing neighbourhood plans and will provide advice and assistance. Once a draft plan has been produced, the Council will undertake a screening report to determine whether the content of the plan requires a Strategic Environmental Assessment.
If the group wish to consider allocating sites it will be important to liaise with landowners and assess a number of options. Download our Site Assessment form for further guidance on carrying out this process.
An evidence base checklist has also been produced which might be helpful when formulating the draft plan.
Groups may also find it useful to engage their own independent professional advisors to guide them through the process.
The Council has defined confines for villages in Primary and Secondary Service villages, however, for "Other" villages, groups may wish to define their own confines. The Council has produced a guidance note to support groups with this exercise. As set out in the Part 2 Local Plan, settlements that are classified as Small Settlements or Hamlets are effectively in the open countryside and it is not appropriate to define confines.
A project plan template is also available for groups to download and use to help plan the timescales for the development of a Neighbourhood Plan.
Before submitting the plan to the Council the qualifying body must bring the proposals to the attention to people who live, work or carry on business in the area. This stage must include a 6-week consultation period for representations to be made. This is commonly referred to as the Regulation 14 consultation.
During this six-week period the qualifying body must also consult a number of statutory consultees: adjoining parish councils; Homes England; Natural England; the Environment Agency; Historic England; Highways England; relevant voluntary sector organisations; and the Council. The Council will provide groups with a database of those who should be consulted. It is usual practice for the qualifying body to pass on details of respondents at Regulation 14 stage to the Council, therefore it is important that they make consultees aware of this under GDPR. The Council can advise on this.
The qualifying body should then consider the responses and possibly revise the proposals in the light of comments received before submitting their plan to West Northamptonshire Council. Responses to this and details of informal and formal consultation exercises undertaken should be recorded in a consultation statement.
Step Four: Submission consultation (Regulation 16)
The submitted draft Neighbourhood Plan must include:
A map or statement, which needs to identify the neighbourhood area to which the plan relates
A consultation statement
The proposed neighbourhood development plan containing all the policies and proposals, including any site specific allocations
A statement explaining how the plan has met the ‘basic conditions’.
A statement confirming that the plan does not give rise to significant environmental affects.
The consultation statement should contain details of the people and organisations that were consulted on the draft plan. It should explain how they were consulted and summarise the main issues and concerns that were raised. The statement should describe how these issues have been considered and addressed in the proposed plan. This should demonstrate that there has been good community engagement and that it has informed the content of the plan.
The neighbourhood development plan must also meet certain ‘basic conditions’ before it can come into force. These include that the plan:
Must have regard to national policies and advice, such as the National Planning Policy Framework
Must contribute to the achievement of sustainable development
Must be in general conformity with the strategic policies in the development plan for the area, which includes any adopted local plans
Must be compatible with European obligations and human rights requirements.
The planning guidance website contains further information on the basic conditions. In terms of general conformity with the strategic policies of the development plan, this includes all policies of the West Northamptonshire Joint Core Strategy (Part 1), and the adopted Settlements and Countryside Local Plan (Part 2), where they are listed in Appendix F.
A statement explaining how the plan meets these basic conditions needs to accompany the plan. In addition, the statement needs to document the process the group has been through.
Providing the submitted plan meets these requirements the Council will then formally publicise the proposals for six weeks and invite representations. This is commonly referred to as the Regulation 16 consultation.
The Council will work with the qualifying body to appoint an independent examiner. The role of the examiner is to consider any representations and to check that it meets the basic conditions. This includes checking it:
Is appropriate having regard to national policy
Contributes to the achievement of sustainable development
Is in general conformity with the strategic policies in the development plan.
Neighbourhood Plan examinations are carried out in line with the guidance issued by the Neighbourhood Planning Independent Examiner Referral Service.
During the examination, the examiner may ask questions of clarification of the Council and qualifying body on various issues. As a general rule, the examiner will reach a view on the plan based on written representations that were submitted to the Regulation 16 consultation, however, where the examiner considers it necessary to ensure thorough examination of an issue or to give parties a fair chance to put their case forward, a hearing will be held.
Following consideration of the issues, conformity and whether the plan meets the basic conditions, the examiner will issue a report which may recommend changes.
The Council will consider the examiner’s recommendations and whether the plan should proceed to referendum. The Council will seek agreement on a date with the qualifying body but where no agreement can be reached this decision will need to be taken within five weeks of receipt of the examiners report.
Those eligible will be asked to vote on whether they want the Council to use the Neighbourhood Plan to help it decide planning applications in the neighbourhood area. A majority of people voting must support the plan if it is to be adopted by the Council.
If it has been designated a business area a second referendum will be organised by the Council for the business sector. If only one referendum approves the proposed neighbourhood development plan the District Council has a choice over whether or not to approve it.
The Council have produced guidance on publicity for Councillors
Further guidance produced by the Council on publicity and expenses during the referendum period is also available.
Following the referendum, if it is successful and there is a majority vote in favour of the plan the Council will check that the making of the plan would not contravene Convention Rights or European Union Obligations.
If satisfied that this is not the case the Council will then make the plan and publicise its decision. The plan will then become part of the statutory development plan for the area with immediate effect.