On 6 April 2012, the Neighbourhood Planning Regulations came into force. These confer neighbourhood planning powers on designated community groups (neighbourhood forums) to plan and permit certain local development without the need for planning applications. However, neighbourhood development plans and neighbourhood development orders must pass a referendum before taking effect.
Draft regulations, recently laid before Parliament, give some detail on these referendums. They include provisions on the wording of referendum questions, the required publicity prior to the referendum, a limit on campaign expenses which may be incurred and restrictions on the material which may be published 28-days prior to the referendum to prevent the local authority from unduly influencing the result.
In the interests of efficiency, referendum polls are to be combined with any other polls for referendums or local elections which are scheduled to take place within 28-days of each other. Time-frames of three months or six months had previously been suggested, but during the consultation on the draft regulations, concern was expressed that this could slow the neighbourhood development process. This shortening to 28-days will, it is hoped, help to maintain the momentum of neighbourhood plans.
The regulations are largely based upon the Local Authorities (Conduct of Referendums) (England) Regulations 2012, and so the Government does not intend to produce any separate guidance on these regulations.
The Government has not indicated when we can expect to see these regulations in force.