Once made, a Neighbourhood Plan becomes part of the planning authority’s suite of Local Development Documents. In principle, this gives any Neighbourhood Plan as much status in determining applications as the Local Plan. The hard work, examination and referendum are over and your community now has a made Neighbourhood Plan – well done! But that is not the end; it is in fact only (to quote Churchill) “the end of the beginning”.  The work now begins on using the plan to prevent inappropriate development (wrong site, wrong uses, wrong design etc.) and to ensure more thoughtful, locally sensitive development and design.

After a successful referendum, the lead responsibility of using the plan shifts to the local planning authority, to the development management team who assess and reach determinations on all planning applications

Our team have just finished some ‘testing the water’ research, titled ‘Plans in Use’. We spoke to Planning Officers (policy and development management), together with Parish and Town Councils across the south west to begin exploring how made plans are being used. The results are mixed, to say the least.

The positive if still anecdotal news is that strong Neighbourhood Plans are being used successfully to counter predatory applications by developers (including the volume housebuilders) for large and inappropriate edge of settlement developments. And some of that is after appeals and even court cases. We also found positive examples of made plans being used directly – i.e. quoted –  and successfully in officer reports on applications.

But the less positive news is that some development management staff are not always as aware as they should be of made plans and sometimes they find they can’t use a made plan policy because it is not clear or strong enough (and that is despite the plan having cleared examination).

Which brings us to an absolutely key point.  In the same way that district councillors work with their officers on strategic plans, so Parish/Town councillors should work with the officers to ensure that their Neighourhood Plan is known about, understood and used as effectively as it can be. That is a shared responsibility. That may worry over-stretched development management officers but careful briefing and support can actually save them time later.

The research was funded by CPRE regional branches. The full report can be downloaded below.