Monday's ministerial statement from Gavin Barwell, the Minister of State for Housing and Planning, further strengthens the role that the Government sees neighbourhood plans having in the determination of planning applications, particularly where the local planning authority is unable to demonstrate a five year housing land supply (5 YHLS).

Communities have often been left feeling very frustrated that their recently adopted neighbourhood plan, compliant with the NPPF, is found to be out-of-date when determining a planning application, which does not comply with the plan, because the local planning authority hasn't got a 5YHLS.

In two recent Secretary of State decisions in Cheshire East, the Secretary of State granted planning permission for residential developments which were in conflict with recently adopted neighbourhood plans because Cheshire East Council could only demonstrate a land supply of 3.29 years. Accordingly paragraph 49 of the NPPF was engaged and polies in those e neighbourhood for the supply of housing were considered to be out-of-date. The applications were considered in the context of sustainable development. In the balancing exercise required by paragraph 14 of the NPPF, the Secretary of State agreed with his Inspectors' decisions to grant permission because the benefits provided by both developments outweighed the harm of developing in the countryside outside the relevant development boundaries. In both decision letters the Secretary of State acknowledged the role which the local community played in preparing the neighbourhood plan and shared their frustration that the policies in those plans were out-of-date as a result of the housing situation of the local planning authority.

The unfortunate reality for some communities is that their neighbourhood plans may contain policies which are out-of-date the moment that the neighbourhood plan is made. In the ministerial statement, Mr Barwell seeks to shift the balance back towards those communities.

It states: This means that relevant policies for the supply of housing in a neighbourhood plan, that is part of the development plan, should not be deemed to be 'out-of-date' under paragraph 49 of the National Planning Policy Framework where all of the following circumstances arise at the time the decision is made:

  • This written ministerial statement is less than 2 years old, or the neighbourhood plan has been part of the development plan for 2 years or less;
  • the neighbourhood plan allocates sites for housing; and
  • the local planning authority can demonstrate a three-year supply of deliverable housing sites.

This move is going to be welcomed by communities who are in the preparation stages of their neighbourhood plans and by those communities which have their plans in place, especially in areas where the local planning authority is able to demonstrate at least three years housing land supply. However unfortunately for them, it has come too late for the communities of Breraton and Sandbach in East Cheshire.

The statement applies to decisions made on applications and appeals from Monday 12 December 2016. It should be read in conjunction with the NPPF and is a material consideration in relevant planning decisions.

Mr Barwell has also further extended the period of call-in for six months for residential development of over 25 dwellings in areas where a qualifying body has submitted a neighbourhood plan proposal to the local planning authority but the relevant plan has not been made.

The changes set out in the ministerial statement add further to the Government's aims to increase the role that local communities play in influencing the development in their areas. The Neighbourhood Planning Bill proposes a statutory duty to have regard to post-examination neighbourhood plans and that they should form part of the development plan immediately post referendum approval without the need for formal adoption by the local planning authority. The Bill passed its third reading stage in the House of Commons yesterday and will now be considered by the House of Lords.

The influence of neighbourhood plans is increasing and will increase further