We have been familiarising ourselves with the recently updated National Planning Policy Framework, especially in relation to Neighbourhood Planning. We are pleased to see the importance of Design Quality being reinforced, with the NPPF highlighting that ‘Neighbourhood plans can play an important role in identifying the special qualities of each area and explaining how this should be reflected in development’. This is specially topical for us because one of the results of our research on Neighbourhood Plans (read more here) was that some development management officers had become frustrated that Neighbourhood Plans were not – as they had hoped – saying anywhere near enough about local distinctiveness and design.

This is why one important area of our work with communities in preparing Neighbourhood Plans focusses on the understanding and evaluation of their place’s defining characteristics, resulting in an evidence base that can underpin Design Policies in the Neighbourhood Plan – key to reinforcing and protecting local character as new development comes forward. This is most often done through the production of a Community Design Statement.

Along with the emphasis on Design, there is a stronger emphasis in the NPPF on pre-application engagement, “Good quality pre-application discussion enables better coordination between public and private resources and improved outcomes for the community”.

The Place Studio team worked with Stroud District Council and the Gloucestershire Rural Community Council to prepare a district wide Pre-Application Protocol, which many of the District’s Parish Councils have adopted. The protocol, which was drawn up with input from the development industry, aims to enable open, agreed and well-structured working between communities, applicants/developers, the local planning authority and elected members in advance of planning applications, helping to deliver better quality development for all. Most of the Neighbourhood Plan groups we are working with are also proposing to include a planning policy to link to and reinforce the importance of pre-application engagement. What’s more, a number of plans that we have worked on got that policy through examination successfully, so it can be done!

You can read our NPPF 2018 abstract of points relevant to Neighbourhood Plans here.