Planning minister, Nick Boles, has announced an incentive for local communities to draw up NDPs by stating that areas with an adopted NDP will receive an increased amount of CIL receipts compared to areas without an NDP. This article looks at some of the problems encountered so far in designating Neighbourhood Areas and Neighbourhood Forums.

The “Boles Bung” has made headlines recently, with may surprised at the high level of CIL receipts that will be passed to neighbourhoods – 25 per cent for those with an NDP, and 15 per cent for others. Nick Boles has suggested that some communities that are eligible to receive 25 per cent of CIL receipts could get up to £400,000 to spend on local facilities with these measures coming into force in Spring 2013.

NDPs are increasing in number with, so far, a large geographical bias to the South and Midlands. At the date of writing this article, the Government reported being aware of more than 500 areas making use of neighbourhood planning powers, which give communities a strong voice in their local planning.

So far, however, only three NDPs have progressed past the consultation stage of the process and only one plan has successfully passed referendum. Both Exeter St James and Thame’s NDPs have passed the examination stage since they completed their six-week statutory consultations in November 2012 and they will both hold their referendums on 2 May. Dawlish’s NDP has been rejected by the examiner. The first referendum (and adoption of an NDP) took place in Upper Eden, Cumbria on 7 March. Our blog post provides some more details about these plans.

Why so few NDPs? We have seen reference to a number of problems experienced so far in designating an area for a NDP and progressing the plan to the referendum stage(quite aside to agreeing content and getting the voters onside). Some LPAs have indicated that the Neighbourhood Planning Regulations are drafted vaguely, leading to different interpretations being made.

  • The regulations state that a “qualifying body” is a parish council or, in a non-parished area, a designated Neighbourhood Forum. Therefore the designation process is more complex for non-parished areas as a Forum needs to be established. 
  • Another issue arises over the boundaries of the Neighbourhood Area. The qualifying body must submit a statement to the LPA explaining why the area proposed is considered appropriate to be designated as a Neighbourhood Area along with a map of the area. The LPA has the ability to refuse the application if it considers that the specified area is not appropriate. 
  • The regulations have not specified whether a Neighbourhood Area must be designated before a Neighbourhood Forum, or vice versa and as a result different approaches have been taken. 
  • A further issue is that the areas designated as Neighbourhood Areas must not overlap. Also, Parish Council applications should cover part or all of the parish and Neighbourhood Forum applications must not cover a parished area. LPAs will need to carefully consider how proposals for neighbourhood areas which cross parish boundaries are designated. It is possible to incorporate a number of different parished areas within a NDP boundary eg, Upper Eden which comprises 17 parishes. Also cross local authority applications should be submitted to both affected LPAs.
  • The cost could also act as a barrier to the adoption of an NDP as the cost will vary depending on the scope and content of the Neighbourhood Plan. The Government estimate that the costs will be between £17,000 and £63,000. This cost, with the exception of the examination and referendum stages, is borne by the community producing the NDP. The Government Supporting Communities fund may provide financial assistance for professional support and the local authority has a duty to support but may or may not be able to provide financial assistance.

It is also worth noting the Neighbourhood Planning (Referendums) (Amendment) Regulations 2013, which amend the 2012 version of the Regs and make provision for the conduct of additional “business referendums” in relation to England. The business referendums are required for a neighbourhood area which has been designated as a business area. They are in addition to the residential referendum for the area and both must be held on the same day.