Neighbourhood Plans – to protect and/or provide?

Research published by planning consultancy Turley has found that the take up of neighbourhood plans – a cornerstone of the Government’s Localism agenda – is concentrated in the south of England, generally in more affluent areas within Conservative-led authorities, with a mixed picture of providing for or resisting development.

The Turley research – Neighbourhood Planning: Plan and Deliver? – shows that to date, over 980 applications have been made by neighbourhood organisations for formal approval to draw up a neighbourhood plan. Of these, over 750 areas have been approved by local authorities to proceed. Seventy five neighbourhood plans have been published for consultation, but only six Neighbourhood Plans are formally in place (“made”) at the end of February 2014.

Of those plans published, 73 per cent have been produced in areas with Conservative led councils, with just nine per cent having been produced in areas which are Labour-controlled. Seventy five per cent of all published plans have been produced in the south of England.

The Turley research also highlights that areas of below average affluence have so far been less involved in the neighbourhood planning processes, with just nine plans published in areas categorised as ‘most deprived’.

Rob Peters, Executive Director in Turley’s Bristol office who led the research, said:

“We have reviewed over 4,000 pages of draft neighbourhood plans and a clear picture is emerging. The preparation of neighbourhood plans is popular but is being recognised more by communities in the south of England compared to the North.”

“It also appears that less affluent communities – are not yet engaging fully in the neighbourhood planning process.”

The research found that, of the plans published so far, the smallest population of a neighbourhood plan area is Walton (Wakefield in West Yorkshire) representing just 225 people. The largest is Winsford (Cheshire) representing over 30,000 people, highlighting the difference in size, scale and geography of the plans.

Two thirds (67 per cent) of all published plans cover rural neighbourhoods and one third relate to urban areas. Over half (55 per cent) of all neighbourhood plans seek primarily to resist new development, with that number increasing to 63 per cent in rural areas.

Rob says:

“I am not yet convinced that neighbourhood planning is an emphatic success or that the plans are making satisfactory provision for development, as the Government has suggested, when so few plans have been made (i.e. adopted).”

“Neighbourhood plans have been stalling in their progress to adoption with adjourned examinations (Winslow, Aylesbury Vale), rejections by Examiners (Slaugham), and legal challenges (Tattenhall, Cheshire).”

“The picture that emerges from the published neighbourhood plans is one of the majority seeking to maintain the status quo and restricting new development, with a smaller minority of plans encouraging growth. This suggests a potential for conflict between localism delivered through neighbourhood planning and the positive presumptions and growth that underpin Government policy.”

The Turley research recognises that neighbourhood forums can provide a useful route to achieve meaningful engagement, but in some cases the views of land owners and developers are given insufficient weight. This means that increasingly developers will need to factor this into their monitoring and actions for promotional activity through the development plan process.

“Residential developers in particular are aware of the potential of neighbourhood plans to influence the timescale for advancing their development proposals. Where possible they are trying to move ahead of emerging neighbourhood plans to limit the effects of possible new local policy constraints.”

Rob adds:

“Our report also suggests that neighbourhood planning processes are starting to become important to the business community. There are 11 Business Neighbourhood Plans under preparation. These can extend to trading estates, business parks or town centres (where there is no Parish Council). In such areas the benefits are a streamlined route for applications, with the potential to boost job creation and regeneration whilst working collaboratively with local communities. The mixed referendums of businesses and residents is however yet to be tested and there are signs of conflicting interests.”

“We are seeing developers adopt strategies to either work with or around neighbourhood plans by seeking greater engagement with higher tier policies, preparing early planning applications and/or trying to engage effectively with the Neighbourhood Plan process.”

A copy of Neighbourhood Planning: Plan and Deliver? can be found at