The consultation seeks views on proposals to introduce time limits within which local planning authorities must take decisions on certain applications for a neighbourhood area to be designated.It also seeks views on changes to the pre-submission consultation and publicity process for neighbourhood plans and neighbourhood development orders, and the documents that must accompany a neighbourhood plan when submitted to a local planning authority.

Time limit for taking decisions on the designation of a neighbourhood area

In order to incentivise all local planning authorities to take timely decisions that enable communities to move forward on plan making and developing order proposals, it is proposed to require an application for a neighbourhood area designation to be determined by a prescribed date.It is also proposed that this will apply to community organisations bringing forward a community right to build order.

Recognising that there will be circumstances where greater flexibility will be required, (e.g. competing applications for designation), this period will initially only apply in circumstances where:

  • the boundaries of the neighbourhood area applied for coincide with those of an existing parish or electoral ward; and
  • there is no existing designation or outstanding application for designation, for all or part of the area for which the new designation is sought.

No change is proposed to the time available for representations to be made (minimum 6 weeks), and no change is proposed to the requirement to publish details of a designation that has been made or reasons for refusing to designate an area.

The consultation reveals a longer term intention to introduce measures whereby neighbourhood areas are automatically designated if a local planning authority does not take a decision within a specified time period.

Pre-submission consultation

The Consultation notes that experience to date has shown that parish and town councils and designated neighbourhood forums have been undertaking effective, extensive and continuous consultation during the preparation of neighbourhood plan or order proposals.It is therefore proposed to remove the current requirement for a minimum of six weeks pre-submission consultation and publicity by those preparing a neighbourhood plan or order.

Consulting landowners

Amendment are proposed that will require those preparing a neighbourhood plan proposal to consult the owners of sites they consider may be affected by the neighbourhood plan as part of the site assessment process.Such requirements already exist for land covered by an NDO. Views are sought on the estimated likely cost of introducing this requirement.

Condition to test extent of consultation

To balance the proposal which will remove the requirement for a minimum pre-submission consultation and publicity period and "to ensure that there remains confidence in the robustness of the consultation process" it is proposed to introduce an additional basic condition to test neighbourhood plan and order proposals (NDO or CRB order).This introduces a new statutory requirement (basic condition) to test the nature and adequacy of the consultation undertaken during the preparation of a neighbourhood plan or order.

Strategic environmental assessment

To address a concern that independent examiners have not always been confident that they have sufficient information before them to determine whether a neighbourhood plan is likely to have significant environmental effects, DCLG propose to introduce a requirement for accompanying environmental information.

To ensure compatibility with the EU’s Strategic Environmental Assessment Directive can be considered, the proposed requirement is to provide certain information when the draft plan is submitted to a council for examination. This would be either: a statement saying why the plan is unlikely to have significant environmental effects, (screening opinion); an environmental report; or, an explanation of why the plan does not require screening or an environmental assessment.

Further measures

Finally, the Consultation seeks views on:

  • stages in the process that are considered disproportionate to their purpose, or any unnecessary requirements that could be removed;
  • how the shared insights from early adopters could support and speed up the progress of others;
  • whether communities need to be supported differently; and
  • innovative ways in which communities are funding, or could fund, their neighbourhood planning activities.

Comment

The Consultation makes it clear that the Government is keen to build on the experience of the more than 1,000 communities that have already used these plans and to build on the reforms already introduced.  The consultation states that it is estimated that 1.9 million English households (8.7 per cent) live in a designated neighbourhood area.

One of the Government's key aims is to see the process quickened, and this is achieved by targeting a number of specific issues that can cause obstacles and delays in process, particularly designations by local authorities.

The Government's proposals reinforce their view that neighbourhood planning should play an important part in its agenda to encourage locally led house building, and so its proposed changes are designed to incentivise improvements in the administration of the process and will apply also to community right to build orders. 

The minister said "Last year alone, planning permission was granted for 216,000 new homes. Today’s proposals will help scrap even more red tape and make it even easier to get the homes and shops communities want built, while at the same time breathing new life into our vital industries."